That “My Ears are Burning” Thing Is Definitely Apocryphal

Friday 13 May 2016 by Bradley M. Kuhn

I've posted in the past about the Oracle vs. Google case. I'm for the moment sticking to my habit of only commenting when there is a clear court decision. Having been through litigation as the 30(b)(6) witness for Conservancy, I'm used to court testimony and why it often doesn't really matter in the long run. So much gets said by both parties in a court case that it's somewhat pointless to begin analyzing each individual move, unless it's for entertainment purposes only. (It's certainly as entertaining as most TV dramas, really, but I hope folks who are watching step-by-step admit to themselves that they're just engaged in entertainment, not actual work. :)

I saw a lot go by today with various people as witnesses in the case. About the only part that caught my attention was that Classpath was mentioned over and over again. But that's not for any real salient reason, only because I remember so distinctly, sitting in a little restaurant in New Orleans with RMS and Paul Fisher, talking about how we should name this yet-to-be-launched GNU project “$CLASSPATH”. My idea was that was a shell variable that would expand to /usr/lib/java, so, in my estimation, it was a way to name the project “User Libraries for Java” without having to say the words. (For those of you that were still children in the 1990s, trademark aggression by Sun at the time on the their word mark for “Java” was fierce, it was worse than the whole problem the Unix trademark, which led in turn to the GNU name.)

But today, as I saw people all of the Internet quoting judges, lawyers and witnesses saying the word “Classpath” over and over again, it felt a bit weird to think that, almost 20 years ago sitting in that restaurant, I could have said something other than Classpath and the key word in Court today might well have been whatever I'd said. Court cases are, as I said, dramatic, and as such, it felt a little like having my own name mentioned over and over again on the TV news or something. Indeed, I felt today like I had some really pointless, one-time-use superpower that I didn't know I had at the time. I now further have this feeling of: “darn, if I knew that was the one thing I did that would catch on this much, I'd have tried to do or say something more interesting”.

Naming new things, particularly those that have to replace other things that are non-Free, is really difficult, and, at least speaking for myself, I definitely can't tell when I suggest a name whether it is any good or not. I actually named another project, years later, that could theoretically get mentioned in this case, Replicant. At that time, I thought Replicant was a much more creative name than Classpath. When I named Classpath, I felt it was somewhat obvious corollary to the “GNU'S Not Unix” line of thinking. I also recall distinctly that I really thought the name lost all its cleverness when the $ and the all-caps was dropped, but RMS and others insisted on that :).

Anyway, my final message today is to the court transcribers. I know from chatting with the court transcribers during my depositions in Conservancy's GPL enforcement cases that technical terminology is really a pain. I hope that the term I coined that got bandied about so much in today's testimony was not annoying to you all. Really, no one thinks about the transcribers in all this. If we're going to have lawsuits about this stuff, we should name stuff with the forethought of making their lives easier when the litigation begins. :)

Posted on Friday 13 May 2016 at 20:00 by Bradley M. Kuhn.

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Both previously and presently, I have been employed by and/or done work for various organizations that also have views on Free, Libre, and Open Source Software. As should be blatantly obvious, this is my website, not theirs, so please do not assume views and opinions here belong to any such organization. Since I do co-own ebb.org with my wife, it may not be so obvious that these aren't her views and opinions, either.

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Bradley M. Kuhn <bkuhn@ebb.org>