A copyright and patent dispute between Oracle and Google could have unexpected result: exposure of company shills.
This week, U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup ordered both companies to disclose whether they had paid any journalists, bloggers or other commentators who wrote about the case.
"Although proceedings in this matter are almost over, they are not fully over yet and, in any event, the disclosure required by this order would be of use on appeal or on any remand to 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," Alsup wrote in the one-page order.
The order came in a lawsuit by Oracle against Google. A jury found in Google's favor on the key issues back in May.
At this point, it's not clear what inspired Alsup. At least one blogger -- Florian Mueller, who authors the FOSS Patents blog -- is known to have taken money from Oracle. But that's hardly a secret, given that Mueller said in April that Oracle had "very recently" become one of his clients.
Perhaps Alsup believes that Mueller wasn't alone in taking money from one of the parties. But even if other bloggers did so, that doesn't seem relevant to the patent or copyright issues.
Although Alsup says that the information would be "of use" on appeal, he doesn't say why. Frankly, it's hard to imagine that appellate judges would decide a case based on a blogger's opinion no matter whose payroll the writer was on.
Meanwhile, the order as written seems extremely broad. Eric Goldman, a professor at Santa Clara University, points out that the order could apply to any blogger who has written about the case and also runs AdSense ads -- including him.
Of course, unlike shills, bloggers who run AdSense ads aren't hiding that fact. And, yes, journalists and commentators should disclose any financial interest in cases they write about. But it's not clear that a judge can order that disclosure. Certainly a judge shouldn't do so without first giving them an opportunity to contest the order.
Nonetheless Alsup directed the parties to make the disclosure by the end of next week -- which means that any bloggers who might be affected don't have much time to attempt to fight the order.