December 1st, 2014

What if the S language had been copyrighted?

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At H2O World 2014, we were fortunate to have Josh Bloch give a reprise of his A Brief, Opinionated History of the API talk that he first delivered at SPLASH 2014. (For those with the time, you can watch a 47 minute 21 second recording of this talk on the H2O.ai YouTube channel.)

This is one of those subjects that I wish I could say more about, but because this writing is being circulated through the internet where nothing ever ages, I will limit myself to a high-level summary in hopes that it will motivate the reader to learn more about this subject.
The purpose of Josh’s talk was two-fold. The first objective was to educate the audience on what an Application Programming Interface (API) is, when the first known recording of an API was, what are common examples of APIs, and what are the elements of a successful API.
While this history lesson and technical discussion was very engaging, it was the second portion of the talk where Josh talked about the legal regulations surrounding the ownership of APIs where the subject matter became highly relevant both to those that live in the digital world and those that casually visit it alike.
While each community could find ways of relating to this API discussion, I wanted to address R users in particular as they may not have thought through this issue before. To that end I will conclude this post with a question and let the reader decide their best course of action: What if the book The New S Language by Becker, Chambers, and Wilks was accompanied by a copyright on the S language back in 1988?
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