Sunday, May 13, 2012

Does the "Oracle v. Google" battle of API's test the distinction between "free software" and "open source"?

There is an interesting legal battle going on between Google and Oracle, over Google’s use of a few lines of code “calling” some Oracle java api’s.  A judge instructed the jury to assume that the sequence of method calls could itself be subject to copyright, and said that he would decide on his own whether the java code inside the calls could be copyrighted. 

The whole idea is frightening to a community of programmers that offer and depend on  “free software”, as explained in this link at the Free Software Foundation website, link. FSF provides a link to Groklaw for more legal details.

An important point is the distinction between “free software” and “open source” software, the later concept being a little more restrictive.  The GNU/Linux operating system site has a white paper (“Why open source missed the point of free software”) explaining the differences, which are subtle, here

From a practical viewpoint, it would sound as if the dispute could have a major impact on future innovation by individual developers who work outside conventional employment channels.

The case also perhaps illustrates the danger for corporate programmers, of leaving in redundant or possibly unnecessary code, to find that there are potential legal consequences later.  I recall this issue in the mainframe era with just leaving in monitoring "Display" statements. 

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