Open Source Legal Resource

By Blane Warrene
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The buzz is at a peak today as news outlets continue to cover yesterday’s oepning of the Software Freedom Law Center.

Funded in part by the Open Source Development Labs, home to Linux creator Linus Torvalds, the New York-based organization hopes to bring legal and services support to users and advocates of open source technology.

Most interesting may be the goal of training new lawyers to understand the nuances of the world of open source licensing, including the GNU General Public License (getting a rewrite this year as well).

The group will also help developers looking to build solutions with home grown and existing open source code, as well as assist in better license selection. Board members include industry heavyweights Eben Moglen (General Counsel, Free Software Foundation), Lawrence Lessig (Creative Commons) and Diane Peters (Open Source Development Labs).

Some purists have voiced regret over free and open source software working in the same channels as commercial software — often utilizing the same business tactics. However, the commercialization of open source through services such as code review, legal assistance and corporate adoption is opening new doors for business selling open source solutions.

Open source has shown it can keep pace with the big guns of the proprietary sphere, now it will have the critical validation for executives holding budget purse strings through organizations like this one.

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  • Serenarules

    This is just my opinion, but I find the whole issue silly.

    Whether I release an open source or closed source product is irrelevant. What is is relevant is the license I provide with it.

    Said license will do one or more of the following:

    Grant usership rights
    Grant ownership rights
    Grant development rights
    Grant distribution rights

    That is pretty straight forward.

    The issue that needs to be cleared up is a little more abstract however. Take the case of a consumer who has used many open source products to run their “hobby” sites. After a while, they become unsatisfied and decide it is time to write their own software, with the possibility of selling it. After designing the application, they realize that some of the code is strikingly similar to parts of the various things they’ve used in the past. Not intentionally, but out of relative familiarity. What legal rights does each party have in a case like this?

    The music industry went through this a while back and some metrics were set forth to determine how many notes of a particular song could be repeated in another without the need for royalties. This was reliant on proof that the original song in question played a direct role in the creation of the second.

    The answer to this one still eludes me. All I know is that if I were to find that 10 out 1000+ lines of a particular third party app was indentical to something I wrote, I probably would just look the other way. Who knows, maybe I have existing code that was influenced by another, without realizing it?

    People need to get a grip and stop hunting pennies.

  • Dorsey

    Seldom does any good result when lawyers get involved. I wonder if this will lead to the creation of an “open source” company that will control the rights and access to “open source” technology? If you don’t see the irony there, you’re missing the point.