Monday, November 06, 2006

Open Source Law

Columbia University Law Professor Eben Moglen today announced the formation of the Software Freedom Law Center, whose mission is to provide pro-bono legal services globally to eligible non-profit open source software projects and developers.

"As the popularity and use of free and open source software increases and proprietary software development models are threatened, providing necessary legal services to open source developers is becoming increasingly important to prevent liability and other legal issues from interfering with its success," Moglen said. "The Law Center is being established to provide legal services to protect the legitimate rights and interests of free and open source software projects and developers, who often do not have the means to secure the legal services they need."

OSDL has raised more than $4 million for a newly-established IP fund that will provide the seed money for the new and independent legal center based in New York. Last year, OSDL announced a separate $10 million Linux Legal Defense Fund to provide legal support for Linus Torvalds and end user companies subjected to Linux-related litigation by the SCO Group. The new Law Center announced today will be an independent organization not affiliated with OSDL.

"OSDL is committed to supporting initiatives such as the Law Center to help protect the legitimate development and use of Linux and open source software," said Stuart Cohen, CEO of OSDL. "We encourage other companies and organizations like OSDL who are dedicated to securing the future of open source software to contribute to the Law Center and participate in its good works."

Overseeing the Law Center will be a distinguished board of directors comprised of Moglen; Diane Peters, General Counsel at OSDL; Daniel Weitzner, Principal Research Scientist at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory; and Lawrence Lessig, Stanford Law Professor and author.

"Both free and open source software face many emerging legal threats," said Lessig. "We should be skeptical of legal mechanisms that enable those most threatened by the success of open source and free software to resist its advance. The Law Center will serve as important support for the free and open source communities and for those that benefit from free and open source software."

Moglen, regarded as one of the world's leading experts on copyright law as applied to software, will run the new Law Center from its headquarters in New York City. The Law Center will initially have two full-time intellectual property attorneys on staff and expects to expand to four attorneys later this year. Initial clients for the Law Center include the Free Software Foundation and the Samba Project.

"Free software projects often face legal issues that need expert advice, but it can sometimes be difficult or prohibitively costly to obtain that advice through traditional legal channels," said Andrew Tridgell, head of the Samba project. "We are delighted that the Free Software Law Center is being setup under Eben Mogeln's excellent guidance. I think this is an important milestone in the maturity of the free software community."

Legal services provided to eligible individuals and projects include asset stewardship, licensing, license defense and litigation support, and legal consulting and lawyer training. The Law Center will be software license neutral and intends to participate directly in work currently underway around revisions to the GNU General Public License (GPL) with the Free Software Foundation. The Law Center will also work on issues around the proliferation of open source licenses.

The Law Centeris dedicated to assisting non-profit open source developers and projects who do not otherwise have access to necessary legal services.

OSDL is dedicated to accelerating the growth and adoption of Linux in the enterprise.