What Is An API? The Clue Is In The Name

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At the end of my testimony in the recent Oracle v Google trial in San Francisco, Judge Alsup asked me to explain what an API is. My answer aimed to simplify the answer for a general listener while remaining recognizable to most programmers. Here’s what I said.

The Java source code of OpenJDK usefully follows a layout convention. Up front of each file is a copyright and license statement. After that come a sequence of definitions of the various standard functions that complete the Java programming language. Together, a set of related definitions comprise a class library.

Each of those definitions comprise three parts. There is a function declaration, which defines the name of the function and the order and data types of the parameters used by the function. After that is a comment block with a summary of the specification for the function, tagged to allow it to be…

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Apache License Yes, Apache CLA No

In a thread on Twitter, the CTO at Chef Software defended the company against the accusation from an open source contributor that it demands copyright assignment from contributors. Chef’s CTO Adam Jacob explained that the company does copy Apache rules and thus requires a copyright license agreement (CLA) in addition to Apache’s open source license – not copyright assignment. He said:

we have never asked for copyright assignment. We do ask for a license, as Apache license requires.

That’s not actually correct, even if it’s a sufficiently common misunderstanding that Jacob really shouldn’t be called out for asserting it (especially as he was probably just suffering from Twitter’s 140 character limit!). Copying Apache’s license does not imply you should copy the rest of Apache’s CLA practice. The Apache License v2 (ALv2) is the best choice among non-reciprocal licenses for new projects, mostly because it includes explicit patent licensing. It is a perfectly effective license to use for any open source project where the community has no expectation of contribution on the part of users of the code, as it conveys all the rights you need to work with the code independently of others. Continue reading

Digital Life Clippings – Christmas Break Edition

  1. Police called to remove pre-teens just in case they pirated Hunger Games movie with cellphonesArs Technica – Given the storyline of the movie, this is ironic. Cineworld thinks copyrights are so precious it’s worth infringing common sense and individual rights to protect them. They think paying customers are criminals until proven otherwise, even kids. Don’t let any kids you care about watch movies at a cinema with this attitude, it’s not safe.
  2. The most wasteful patent aggression strategy ever has failedArs Technica – Another skirmish in the ongoing dirty war by the legacy technology & media industry against Google bites the dust.
  3. NSA dumps incriminating documents on Christmas EveBoing Boing – Anyone who doubts the effectiveness of Freedom of Information requests should see how government agencies squirm responding to them.
  4. Inadvertent Algorithmic CrueltyMeyerWeb – Facebook’s Year In Review is a product of an unremittingly positive mindset that believes algorithms can handle anything. This time I think it will be widely regretted rather than welcomed, for the reasons Eric Meyer explains and I expand. Algorithms can’t exercise discretion; don’t use them for things that demand it.
  5. Cuba’s “offline Internet”Guardian – The Internet was designed to work around obstacles. This fascinating example does it via sneakernet.

Google’s Supreme Court Petition

Last week Google petitioned the Supreme Court of the United States for permission to appeal the Federal Circuit decision to overturn their victory against Oracle. You may remember that Oracle sued for patent and copyright infringement over Google’s use of a small subset of the huge Java class API in Android. Oracle lost in front of a jury in the district court in San Francisco, but then won on appeal.

The case will be a significant landmark for the technology industry regardless of the outcome, but the real impact of any decisions reached will be felt first by Android. The petition itself then suggests that the wider impact of the case is narrower than others might have feared, as its effects only come into play with substantial systems of APIs. Still, in the event of an Oracle win, open-source-licensed APIs would suddenly become much more important and the work of creating developer ecosystems around proprietary APIs would become much more challenging.

The Google petition includes three detailed and thorough arguments for the overturning of the Federal Circuit decision. For a look into what those arguments are and more on the significance of the case, try Simon’s InfoWorld article.

 

Parody Finally Made Legal In UK

Draft regulations have been published in Britain that will finally end the anomaly where quotation, parody, caricature and pastiche are considered breaches of copyright. If approved by Parliament, they will come into force on June 1st, finally closing the loophole in copyright law that allowed copyright owners to chill criticism and stifle research in cases that are otherwise reasonable.

For more details, see our article on ComputerWorldUK.

The Rights of Peer Creators

It’s amazing how often our work lives and personal lives overlap one another; when we write about digital rights, open source, the power of community or the threat of mass surveillance, it’s clear that these are not just workplace issues. This weeks ComputerWorld UK posting is contributed by Miriam and shows how one of her hobbies raises some pertinent questions about intellectual property in the meshed society.

Narrative role playing is a form of collaborative fiction writing, uniquely enabled by the world wide web. Usually building their stories in the existing fantasy worlds of published writers or hit TV shows and films, the work found on narrative role play sites is often dismissed as “mere fan fiction”. Site contributors reject the label on the basis that all characters and plots on the sites are their own original creations. Whilst authors might consider it a compliment to have other people making this sort of work, it seems that they do not always have respect for the rights inherent in original content creation. Site admins claim that they have witnessed multiple cases in which newly published material by an author closely resembles the work found on their narrative role play sites. In most cases the site contributors consider this to be a great compliment to their own creative skills, but questions of copyright and intellectual property theft lurk menacingly in the corners.

This is just one example of peer creators treading carefully around the grey areas of intellectual property law. As new copyright law is drafted, the rights of a whole new generation of creative communities hangs in the balance. Read Miriam’s full article here.