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Support API freedom

April 5th, 2013

I was reading this article from Steve and Sacha about the API copyrightability, and found myself in a violent agreement. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it.

For those of you who haven’t been following the tech news, the issue at hand is Android — Google neatly side-stepped Java’s compatibility requirements by introducing a new runtime/VM and said that Android is not Java. Oracle sued Google claiming that the Java API is a copyrightable material, and that Google can’t just create a whole new implementation that’s API-compatible with Java. Oracle lost the case, but now Oracle is appealing, and they are garthering legacy vendor friends to argue that API not copyrightable is bad for economy.

But wait, surely more competition is bad for them vendors, but what about the instant gain we the developers got when Android came along, in becoming instantly productive in this entirely new platform?

Looking at the comment secion of the article, I was bit disappointed that some people saw this only as a storm in a teacup, or that this is an issue only about Java, and their favorite programming ecosystem (C#, Ruby, …) are OK. But it’s quite a contrary. If the appeal is successful, it has a broad implication on all sorts of APIs. As they say, first they come for the communists, and you think you are safe, but by the time they come to you, it might be too late!

Take Mono for example. Sure, C# and CLI are under Microsoft Community Promise. But what about the vast APIs in the .NET Framework, which is necessary for writing any meaningul application? What about all the Win32 APIs that Wine implements? Or how about Eucalyptus implementing the Amazon Web Services API? Sure, they might be in a good relationship now, but what if IBM acquires Eucalyptus and started a cloud offering of the same API?

As a developer I benefit every day from the compatibility and being able to migrate from one vendor to another without losing everything. And when I look back at PC/AT, x86 instruction sets, Java EE APIs, and so on, I truly believe that the openness is good not just for us the developers but for the broader economy as a whole.

So after reading the article, I felt like I wanted to help the cause and voice my support, but I wasn’t sure how — I’m just a developer and not a lawyer. So I created a White House petition. Not so much because I expect the White House to do something about it, but it’s a good enough neutral petition site that hopefully people feel safe enough to join. If you agree with the cause, please join the petition and help spread the words, so that our voices get heard.

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