In the aftermath of a hotly contested patent lawsuit between Google, Inc. (GOOG) and Oracle Corporation (NASDAQ:ORCL) over software used in Google’s Android smartphone operating system, a federal judge has ordered both sides to reveal the names and relationships of all bloggers, reporters and commentators who were paid by the companies. Both firms have until August 17 to comply with the order.
What makes this order noteworthy is that it comes several months after a jury found that Google, Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG) had not infringed on patents and copyrights claimed by Oracle Corporation (NASDAQ:ORCL) when Google established its Android smartphone operating system using Oracle’s Java computer language. Oracle was seeking $1 billion, but the jury found in favor of Google and the judge, William Alsup, said that Oracle could not claim copyright protections on Java material that Google presented.
The order also seemed to put Internet and media law scholars on notice. Barry McDonald of Pepperdine University said that a First Amendment issue will likely be raised here, because this order revealing paid reporters may “improperly chill speech. (However,) I doubt a court would be very receptive to that claim if the speech at issue was essentially being bought by a party in some sort of misleading way.”
In the order, Judge Alsup wrote, “The court is concerned that the parties and/or counsel herein may have retained or paid print or Internet authors, journalists, commentators or bloggers who have and/or may publish comments on the issues in the case.” This “would be of use on appeal” and could “make clear whether any treatise, article, commentary or analysis on the issues posed by this case are possibly influenced by financial relationships to the parties or counsel.”
Oracle Corporation (NASDAQ:ORCL) has indicated it would appeal the original ruling.
In a statement, a spokeswoman from Oracle Corporation (NASDAQ:ORCL) said the company “always disclosed all of its financial relationships in this matter, and it is time for Google do to the same. We read this order to also include indirect payments to entities who, in turn, made comments on behalf of Google.”
Google, Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG) has said it would comply fully with the order.
Could paid commentary in favor of one company or another have an effect on a trial like this? Could suppression of said reporters be a First Amendment question? What the motive for the order was may not be known until after August 17, when both parties will have submitted their lists of paid reporters.