Home > Open Source > Ten Things Your Lawyers Need to Know About Open-Source Ten Things Your Lawyers Need to Know About Open-Source Submitted by kellym 2005-09-12 Open Source 25 Comments In ever-growing numbers, CIOs want to take advantage of the many benefits that free and open-source software have to offer their companies. But there’s a snag. Their lawyers can be grouchy when it comes to open-source. About The Author Adam Scheinberg Vice President, Information Technology at Massey Services, Inc • President, Board Member, The Mockingbird Foundation • All Things Web, Umphrey’s McGee • Web Developer • Father • Foodie • Music Snob • OS enthusiast Follow me on Twitter @sethadam1 25 Comments 2005-09-12 8:27 pm One would think that Lawyers of all people would not do such foolish things such as propagating FUD or making gut-based reactions to FOSS. People should be educated to what’s occurring out there, and any concern should be discussed. 2005-09-12 8:42 pm Perhaps the laywers should also study several licenses so that they can advise about the specifics of each license. The BSD or MIT style licenses have much different issues than GPL-style licenses. The laywers should also be expected to compare these licenses with the typical EULA which is typically much more complex and restricting that Open Source licenses. Of course, this assumes that the lawyers have a basic understanding of ‘compiling’ and ‘linking’, since its pretty hard to discuss the GPL or the LGPL without understanding these ideas. 2005-09-12 10:13 pm Lawyers? Studying? Legal documents? Madness! 2005-09-12 9:10 pm saterdaies To be honest, the article didn’t really provide solutions. For example, the article doesn’t solve the patent problem. If my company uses GPL software A that infringes on a patent from another company, my company is still at risk. Yes, getting your lawyers to push for legal change in the government and industry is a good step, but it doesn’t solve the question of what happens for the next 5 years before there is legal change. I’m sure that most GPL software comes with very little legal risk, but with the number of weird software patents going around (like Amazon’s “one-click”) it is a concern. I’m of the belief that these patents are bogus and prior-art can be shown for most and un-originality for the rest, but if you get a suit brought against you, that’s a lot of legal hours you’re going to end up paying for to declare that patent stupid. Even if there is no wrongdoing, the semblance of it can sometimes be enough . 2005-09-12 9:54 pm The risks are no bigger than with proprietary software. Probably even smaller. But it’s an US-issue. In the european countries people tend to care very little about these risks, since they’re no risk in most european countries. I’m relieved I’m living in Denmark. dylansmrjones ristian AT herkild DOT dk 2005-09-12 11:41 pm butters “But it’s an US-issue. In the european countries people tend to care very little about these risks, since they’re no risk in most european countries. I’m relieved I’m living in Denmark.” Perhaps they care too little. In the US the battle has been lost. In the EU the battle is still raging. But I guess you feel there’s no risk, so no sense fighting. Denmark is for the most part pulling its weight, along with Spain, Italy, Austria, Belgium, and the Netherlands. As an American I can only assume that France has long since surrendered. You see, in the US they call anyone who opposes software patents a right-wing pinko socialist hippie, whatever that could possibly mean. They call us names and make fun of our sturdy red suspenders and spirited facial hair. And you *should* care about what goes on in the US, policy-wise, because eventually we’ll force it down your throat in the name of freedom. Then maybe our president will wink and/or smirk at you. 2005-09-13 9:25 am Stunami “As an American I can only assume that France has long since surrendered.” Care to explain why? 2005-09-14 2:12 am CanuckleFrog “As an American I can only assume that France has long since surrendered.” Care to explain why? You need to ask? 2005-09-13 11:42 am Poloso In Europe being called “socialist” is not an offense. Thats another difference. 2005-09-12 9:31 pm This article assumes the typical CIO needs a team of lawyers to consult with when dealing with open source software. Is this necessary? 2005-09-12 11:10 pm butters “This article assumes the typical CIO needs a team of lawyers to consult with when dealing with open source software. Is this necessary?” Yes. The only way you’re sure to lose the game is by not playing. Like it or not. 2005-09-12 9:37 pm …Batman said criminals were a cowardly and superstitious lot. 2005-09-12 9:52 pm Redundance –> Criminal lawyers :p 2005-09-12 10:41 pm if you write code in BSD license, you don’t need lawyers… 2005-09-12 11:22 pm butters “if you write code in BSD license, you don’t need lawyers…” No. Who is going to make sure that the copyright notice, license, and disclaimer are present on all derived works? What if your code infringes on some company’s intellectual property? What if the users of your code complain that their customers don’t accept the condition that they are disclaiming most resposibilities for the functionality of the software, and thus they want to remove the disclaimer? You’ll probably want a lawyer. Whenever you “license” something, you need a lawyer, no matter what side you’re on. You’re entering into a legal contract (to the extent that is permitted by the law of the land), and you need representation in the event of a dispute. 2005-09-13 10:59 am I would assume that there would be a product/project review, design review phase and other checks / balances during the project which would list PUTTING THE LICENSE ON THE PRODUCT. I would assume there would be a code review phase that would weed out any code that infringes on other’s intellectual property, like don’t include a divx encoder in this project. Microsoft has patented many basic functions that are totally undefendable and will likely be challenged by other bigger businesses. If users complain that customers don’t accept no warranty? are you kidding me? When was the last time ANYONE complained about the awful limited 90day warranties included in most products in the US? 2005-09-13 6:07 am corentin The BSD license was written by lawyers (at UCB) to be easily understood by programmers; it is a very simple license. The GPL license was written by programmers (GNU) to be understood by lawyers, so it is a complete mess. 2005-09-12 10:41 pm Blah Blah Blah, open source can be questionable only for stupid american laws. USA should adopt a roman-based juridic system… 2005-09-12 11:09 pm poofyhairguy If the old lawyers can’t keep up with the times then they are just reducing their value and creating a market for competition to survive in. I plan to go to law school because I know that their old ways of thinking leaves a large niche in which I can survive. 2005-09-12 11:53 pm butters I admire your gumption. However, after you graduate from your IP law program, flat broke in the big city, you’ll realize, “screw my ideological agenda, I need to make money and pay off my student loans or else I’ll never be able to retire!!” You don’t go into IP law to change IP law. That’s what politics is for. You’re much better of signing up for the Army, then run for mayor of a medium-sized town in the New England, practice your handshake, then run for Congress. 2005-09-13 3:36 am poofyhairguy I admire your gumption. However, after you graduate from your IP law program, flat broke in the big city, you’ll realize, “screw my ideological agenda, I need to make money and pay off my student loans or else I’ll never be able to retire!!” You don’t go into IP law to change IP law. I don’t want to change IP law. I want to steal clients from lawyers that don’t know much about the modern IT industry (that includes OSS). I have been told be those in the software business in my state that local lawyers are luddites when it comes to such things. The only ideological hold-up I have is that I don’t want to work for the RIAA suing kids. Anything else is cool for me. 2005-09-12 11:34 pm It is indeed a cruel twist of nature that the most wonderful sex coupling in the world is illegal – made so by puritanical Adults determined to limit child rights. 2005-09-13 12:51 am jessta interesting…how does this relate? 2005-09-14 2:10 am CanuckleFrog Don’t listen to this bitch who acts like you should be an advocate for open source. Your responsibility is to your company, not open source or the GPL. Lawyers would just laugh at this drivel. 2005-09-14 4:50 am “The BSD license was written by lawyers (at UCB) to be easily understood by programmers; it is a very simple license. The GPL license was written by programmers (GNU) to be understood by lawyers, so it is a complete mess.” DITTO!