In a surprise move at the end of a trial full of surprises, Judge William Alsup issued a new order demanding both parties in the Oracle vs. Google patent and copyright trial disclose "all authors, journalists, commentators or bloggers who have reported or commented on any issues in this case and who have received money (other than normal subscription fees) from the party or its counsel during the pendency of this action."
The order gives Oracle and Google until noon August 17 to file their disclosures.
The trial, which was heavily covered by the tech media, had its share of advocates for each side of the case. But the revelation of a heretofore unknown paid relationship between one of the litigants and a journalist or blogger could throw gasoline on already heated perceptions on some in the tech media world.
Already one blogger who was involved in covering this trial revealed a consulting relationship with Oracle back in April.
"That said, as a believer in transparency I would like to inform you that Oracle has very recently become a consulting client of mine. We intend to work together for the long haul on mostly competition-related topics including, for one example, FRAND licensing terms," blogger Florian Mueller wrote at the time.
Alsup's order was issued to help set the context for the appeals that are sure to come.
"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," the order read.
There are already questions of whether such an order is constitutional. Does freedom of the press protect relationships between source and journalist, even if there's more than the usual money changing hands? My bet would be no: once a blogger or journalist accepts payment from a company like this, they would become a paid contractor for the client, and the relationship should change.
It may be that, despite suspicions to the contrary, no one in the media was paid by Google or Oracle for favorable coverage of the trial. But with billions of dollars at stake, the temptation to get a favorable hearing in the court of public opinion could have been too great to resist.
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