Freedom At Stake As Oracle Clings To Java API Copyrights In Google Fight

Developer Freedom At Stake As Oracle Clings To Java API Copyrights In Google Fight (dated 2013-03-30; I failed to complete this post in one sitting and let it sit…):

Oracle lost in their attempt to protect their position using patents. They lost in their attempt to claim Google copied anything but a few lines of code. If they succeed in claiming you need their permission to use the Java APIs that they pushed as a community standard, software developers and innovation will be the losers. Learning the Java language is relatively simple, but mastering its APIs is a major investment you make as a Java developer. What Android did for Java developers is to allow them to make use of their individual career and professional investment to engage in a mobile marketplace that Sun failed to properly engage in.

Johan Söderberg, Hackers GNUnited! (2008; appeared as chapter in book I also contributed to; Söderberg’s text stuck with me, as I’ve quoted an extended bit of it before):

Intellectual property rights prevent mobility of employees in so forth that their knowledge are locked in in a proprietary standard that is owned by the employer. This factor is all the more important since most of the tools that programmers are working with are available as cheap consumer goods (computers, etc.). The company holds no advantage over the worker in providing these facilities (in comparison to the blue-collar operator referred to above whose knowledge is bound to the Fordist machine park). When the source code is closed behind copyrights and patents, however, large sums of money is required to access the software tools. In this way, the owner/firm gains the edge back over the labourer/programmer.

These kinds of critiques of intellectual protectionism from the perspective of developer freedom to do their trade, in addition to developer freedom to modify and control their computing environment, to tinker, are too rare. I’m also reminded of the fun title Noncompete Agreements Are The DRM Of Human Capital. So are copyright and patent.

Back to Developer Freedom At Stake…:

Will our economy thrive and be more competitive because companies can easily switch from one service provider to the other by leveraging identical APIs? Or will our economy be throttled by allowing vendors to inhibit competition through API lock-in? And should this happen only because a handful of legacy software vendors wanted to protect their franchises for a few more years?

Clearly this isn’t just about developer freedom. Nor is it just about user freedom — non-users are affected by anti-competitive practices — and the freedom of all is put at risk.

Bonus: What do APIs have in common with advertising?

One Response

  1. […] Notes for panel The API Copyright Emergency: What’s Next? today at API Con SF. The “emergency” is the recent decision in Oracle v. Google, which I don’t discuss directly below, though I did riff on the ongoing case last year. […]

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