Opening Java

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So Java is now open source, licensed under the GPL. At startup camp, I discussed this a bit with Tim Bray. The challenges around open sourcing something as complex as Java (or Solaris) are immense. Establishing clear intellectual property is alone something that can take months. You’d think that it would be a simple question—it’s Sun’s code, so of course they have the right to release it under any license they wish. In reality such things are complex.

Sun needs to make sure that every contractor that has ever touched the Sun codebase had released their work to Sun. Most likely every contractor Sun uses is performing "work for hire" and Sun owns everything they do, but the lawyers need to check that anyway.

Some parts of Java were created by third parties and licensed to Sun. In the event that the license doesn’t allow opening the source, Sun would have to renegotiate, rewrite the licensed features from scratch, or do something to make sure Java is operational with these features excluded.

It’s possible that Java contains technologies that Sun acquired when they purchased or merged with other companies. So they need to go back and make sure there’s a clear IP chain with all of those, too.

So when Jonathan Schwartz thanks the lawyers when announcing Java’s move to the GPL, he’s acknowledging a whole lot of hard work.

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