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Software Freedom Law Center Launched
Tuesday, February 01 2005 @ 06:25 AM EST

This is right on time. The Software Freedom Law Center is born. It will provide pro bono legal services "to eligible non-profit open source software projects and developers" and note it is a global invitation. That could be you.

Here is their mission statement from the new website:

"We provide legal representation and other law related services to protect and advance Free and Open Source Software.

"Free and Open Source Software ('FOSS') is maturing at a rapid pace. The FOSS production ecosystem, once dominated by a few small not-for-profit entities and individual contributors, now includes a global array of individuals, not-for-profit entities, and commercial developers and redistributors. In this mixed-model organizational environment, all FOSS developers must have an environment where liability and other legal issues do not impede their important public service work. The Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC) provides legal representation and other law related services to protect and advance FOSS."

Here is the Board of Directors, Eben Moglen, OSDL's Diane Peters, Lawrence Lessig, and MIT and W3C's Daniel J. Weitzner. The Center will be managed by Moglen and PubPat's Daniel Ravicher. Here you will find a list of services they provide. They fall into four categories: asset stewardship, licensing license defense and litigation support, legal consulting and lawyer training.

The only one you might not readily understand on that list is asset stewardship, but I understand it to mean broadly that they will help you get set up right in the first place so your project doesn't fall off an IP cliff. Here is the explanation for the four categories:

Asset Stewardship

To ensure success, individual FOSS projects need more than a well-chosen license. The processes by which FOSS is produced must ensure that the rights of the FOSS community are preserved and promoted and avoid third-party intellectual property claims, which – as the SCO controversy has shown – have striking potential to disrupt enterprise adoption of FOSS. By bringing to bear the world’s leading expertise in the area, the SFLC offers a broad range of assistance for FOSS developers, ranging from disseminating general best practices guidance to crafting custom solutions for individual clients. This assistance establishes sound organizational and legal structures so that FOSS projects can be assembled and distributed in a way that protects the public’s right to access, use, and develop the software. The SFLC directly represents many of the most significant existing FOSS conservancies, and provides formation assistance for new projects seeking to create similar conservancies.


The SFLC is directly involved in its clients’ FOSS license development efforts, including development of the GNU General Public License v3 by the Free Software Foundation, and offers licensing assistance, particularly license development and implementation consulting, to FOSS developers other than its clients. The SFLC is also available to provide community-wide license review and compatibility analysis, for the purpose of identifying and addressing the causes of unnecessary FOSS license proliferation.

License Defense and Litigation Support

The SFLC defends the integrity of FOSS licenses against both adverse judicial interpretation and legislative interference. The SFLC accepts primary responsibility for enforcement of US copyrights on the software of the represented asset stewardships, and coordinates international copyright enforcement efforts for such works as necessary. The SFLC also assists clients and the general FOSS community in resolution of disputes relating to the use and development of FOSS.

Legal Consulting and Lawyer Training

The SFLC provides enhanced long-term legal stability to the FOSS community by offering consulting to public and training to attorneys involved with or interested in the FOSS legal issues.

Did you note the Center will be working on the next version of the GPL, for starters? So, what do you think? Is this not a grand idea? Here is the press release:


New Law Center Founded to Assist Open Source Software Developers

Software Freedom Law Center to be led by noted IP lawyer and professor Eben Moglen of Columbia University – initial funding support from Open Source Development Labs

BURLINGAME, Calif. – February 1, 2005 – 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.”

Open Source Development Labs (OSDL), a global consortium dedicated to accelerating the adoption of Linux®, 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 World Wide Web Consortium Technology & Society Domain Leader; 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 Center is dedicated to assisting non-profit open source developers and projects who do not otherwise have access to necessary legal services. For criteria on eligibility and to apply for assistance, please contact the Law Center directly or visit it on the Web at


Linux is a trademark of Linus Torvalds. Third party marks and brands are the property of their respective holders


Software Freedom Law Center Launched | 135 comments | Create New Account
Comments belong to whoever posts them. Please notify us of inappropriate comments.
Corrections here
Authored by: Darkelve on Tuesday, February 01 2005 @ 06:30 AM EST
to correct speling mistakess

[ Reply to This | # ]

Off Topic Here
Authored by: Darkelve on Tuesday, February 01 2005 @ 06:40 AM EST
Here be OT

[ Reply to This | # ]

Wonderful idea
Authored by: Darkelve on Tuesday, February 01 2005 @ 06:44 AM EST
Peronally, I think it's a wonderful idea and does not come a minute too soon.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Software Freedom Law Center Launched
Authored by: fudisbad on Tuesday, February 01 2005 @ 06:49 AM EST
O'Gara has not latched onto this one yet. Wonder what will be the headline?

Probably something along the lines of "we need indemnification" and
"we told you so: those legal things are a big pain". Expect obligatory
DiDiot quote.

See my bio for copyright details re: this post.
This subliminal message has been brought to you by Microsoft.

[ Reply to This | # ]

OT: SCO files an NT 10K late filing notice
Authored by: belzecue on Tuesday, February 01 2005 @ 07:28 AM EST

FORM 12b-25


The SCO Group, Inc. (the "Company") hereby requests an extension of
time to file its Annual Report on Form 10-K for the period ended October 31,
2004. The Company was unable to file its Form 10-K by January 31, 2005 without
unreasonable effort or expense because the Company needs more time to adequately
compile and analyze supporting documentation and provide such documentation to
its auditor. Consequently, the Company's auditor was unable to complete the
audit of the Company's financial statements within the necessary period of time.
The Company currently anticipates that the Form 10-K will be filed by no later
than the fifteenth calendar day following the date on which the Form 10-K was

The Company is examining certain matters related to the issuance of shares of
common stock issued under the Company's 2000 Employee Stock Purchase Plan and
potentially its other equity compensation plans. More time is needed to compile
and analyze all relevant data.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Software Freedom Law Center Launched
Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, February 01 2005 @ 07:36 AM EST
This is wonderful. I was thinking if Bill Gates knows that historians in the
future will not be able to say much about history form 1980 to 20xx because all
the important documents are electronic. They're protected by patents for xxx
years, propritetary software that runs/ran on machines that no longer exist and
won't run un new machines.

I think the law center is the most wonderful thing to happen so far this year.
It lets the public create FOSS and make things for all of us to see and use.

k king

[ Reply to This | # ]

Start of a global defense force?
Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, February 01 2005 @ 07:48 AM EST
What I have seen growing in the last decade is a "grassroots" movement
to create a guarded commons. And defend these commons to the last.

Conventional economic theory has shown that open commons fall prey to pillage
and overexploitation, see the "Tragedy of the Commons" by Garrett
Hardin (1968, Google for link). We are seeing this now with overfishing in the
open see.

Later economic and historic analysis showed that a commons has to be protected
to save it from this fate.

The fates of different "computer code commons" that we see with BSD,
GNU, Linux, Apache, Perl, OpenOffice etc., all show the fundamental aspects of
the commons. Those that are not guarded (BSD, Apache, and Perl) all have to
develop special procedures to protect their existence. Apache is actively
supported by groups that cannot live without it, irrespective of what others do
with the code. The Perl crew lives off the language definition and others need
them more than they need the actual code. The BSD projects tend to remain small
and fork often. Their code bases are regularly "pillaged" by companies
and other FOSS projects. Projects under BSD licenses tend to "force"
standards on others by making sure everyone uses the same code-base (e.g., all
the TCP/IP stacks, Ogg Vorbis etc., but also Apache falls into this category).

It is with the GPLed projects that we see real defenses against pillaging. Linux
and OO tend to keep their commons safe by guarding them. The GPL can best be
understood as a defense against the Tragedy of the Commons.

The GPL has been a very successful and good defense. However, in the end, the
"enemy" will find ways to subvert it. Two options are open. Weaken the
GPL by legal means, e.g., make software unprotectable by copyright is one such
attack. Legally enforcing encumbered (GPL incompatible) standards is another.
The other option is the Software Patent Attack.

A decade ago, these attacks would have succeeded easily. The political power of
the relevant interests is so large, that any opposition would have gone
unnoticed. However, the internet changed all that.

The importance of the internet lies in the fact that with the really fast and
cheap communication, large scale distributed open projects are now cheaper to
run than localized closed projects. FOSS projects now are actually much more
efficient (in lines / work hour) than closed source projects. All the
"transaction" and management costs of closed source licenses are
heavily eating into productivity.

Contrary what most people seem to think, economy is not about money, but about
efficiency. More efficient production means more wealth. In the case of FOSS, it
means more software for less work. So much more, that the software pays itself
for what the producer gets out of the software itself.

Yes, this is true. The supporters of Apache earn enough money from using it to
give it away. The cost of selling the code is too high to make it worthwhile. So
we see that the high efficiency of FOSS production makes it worthwhile to just
give away the code and live of what you earn using it.

Actually, you can make a hugh profit producing and USING FOSS, without selling
it. See IBM.

Now the FOSS commons are a shared asset that has to be defended or else it is
lost which would eat into your profits.

And we are now witnessing the next step in FOSS development. Many corporations
and groups are "earning" so much money from the efficiency gain of
using FOSS, that it is in their best interest to defend it vigorously. With real

The defenders can be ordered on organisation level:

- Academia: These have little money and nothing to gain from proprietary
software (they often hate the corporations selling it). On the other side, they
have the know-how to start and recreate FOSS projects if necessary

- Hardware corporations: For them, software is a cost. A hugh cost if you look
at MS' bank account. Sharing costs is all they need.

- Service providers: They earn by helping others. The less their clients have to
pay for software, the more is left to pay them. It also helps if clients trust
them. The information disadvantage with closed source software makes clients
suspicious (this is what depresses the used car prices, clients think they are
sold lemmons so they won't pay). FOSS gives clients more power and more
information, and therefore more trust.

- End users: For end users, three factors of software are important -
Competition, Competition, and Competition.
The more the better. Competition between developers (quality), suppliers (cost),
and services (cost&quality).

It is clear, there are no SELLERS of software in this list. ESR was right,
software is a service, not a product. It is good to see progress on the last

The roadblocks that slow down the EU patent directive (written by the BSA chief)
illustrate the rising dependence of large numbers of people and corporations on
the FOSS commons. It becomes worthwhile to fight for these commons. The only
question is, are we too late?


[ Reply to This | # ]

Software Freedom Law Center Launched
Authored by: DL on Tuesday, February 01 2005 @ 09:12 AM EST
PJ, are you planning on getting involved with this?


[ Reply to This | # ]

Software Freedom Law Center Launched
Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, February 01 2005 @ 09:37 AM EST
Wow, I really enjoyed your comment. Very insightful. And I hope the answer is,
"No, we arn't to late."

Have you thought about writing an article and distibuting it? You have a really
good way of putting this down in a logical order and it made perfect sense.
Very well writen. I think you should share what you have bouncing around in
your head, a very well written paper on this subject and easily distibutable
would be very valuable.


[ Reply to This | # ]

If SCO is not on the board
Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, February 01 2005 @ 09:45 AM EST
Then obviously this effort cannot be supported.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Dare I Suggest Software Patents
Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, February 01 2005 @ 10:26 AM EST
I know the group is in general against software patents but perhaps we should
adapt as a group much as the GPL does for copyrights. May I suggest that the
group endourse the equvilent of GPL Software patents so we can close the door on
M$ and other unscroupulous groups by taking the high ground. This would also
document methodology inventions and leave the door open to innovaltion by
seizing the ground first. If we become effective enough in this area(
<$500/patent) we could also secure new areas of expertise against proprietary
exclusion. For protecting any FOSS developer this would provide incredible legal
leverage should any of us or our products come under atack by M$.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Software Freedom Law Center Question
Authored by: rsteinmetz70112 on Tuesday, February 01 2005 @ 11:03 AM EST
I have one question about the constituancy of the Freedom Law Center.

In reading their information they limit their defense to nonprofit developers.
While I understand that IBM, Sun, Novell and RedHat don't need help. I also
think the large projects like Linux, Samba and Apache would attract immediate
help if attacked.

I am concerned about small and useful projects which are run by individuals or
small for profit entities who could easily be targeted, who will speak for them?
I am thinking about things like ghostscript.


"I could be wrong now, but I don't think so."
Randy Newman - The Title Theme from Monk

[ Reply to This | # ]

Peter Pan, Larry Lessig and FUD
Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, February 01 2005 @ 11:45 AM EST
The Stanford Center for Internet and society Lawrence Lessig counsel, is
currently representing one J Emily Somma.

Somma wrote a book After the Rain based on characters from Peter Pan, a work now
in the public domain. The Great Ormand Hospital in the UK who (by an act of
Parliment) own a perpetual copyright to Peter Pan (but only in the UK),
threatned Ms Somma

This letter explicitly threatened Plaintiff with legal action, stating:
“any acts in respect to the Work in the United States, including its
adaptation, production, sale, advertising and distribution without the
permission of the Hospital will not be countenanced. The Hospital is
prepared to protect its rights.

Ms Somma sued for a declaritory judgement., based on the hospitals not actually
owning a copyright in the US and their threats to sue her.

During one of the legal proceedings the defendent essenially said, "hey we
had no intention to sue her, we were just kidding and she should have known

"Defendant’s Inconsistent Statement to this Court. On July 29, 2004, in a
filing made to this Court, and only after it became apparent that Plaintiff
would not be cowed
by Defendant’s cease and desist letters, Defendant admitted its prior threats
were empty and unfounded. In Defendant’s words: “This is an action for
declaratory relief. Its
premise is that June Emily Somma faces a reasonable apprehension of being sued
by [GOSH]. Every party and lawyer involved in this matter knows that no such
exists.” (July 2004 Joint Statement, at 4 (emphasis added).)
Given this unequivocal statement, one of two options is possible: either
Defendant’s statement to this Court is false and misleading or Defendant has
admitted copyright misuse. If the Defendant is in fact being truthful with this
Court, then
Defendant’s prior accusations of copyright infringement and its threats to sue
Plaintiff were made with knowledge of their lack of legal merit, and with the
intent to wrongfully
suppress Plaintiff’s work. By way of these meritless threats, Defendant
attempted illegally to expand the scope of its copyright beyond its proper legal
bounds. This
constitutes copyright misuse."

Seems they had no intention of suing, where they can frighten someone into
submission, they do so, where they can't they drop the matter, the LAST thing
they want is someone to bring the issue to trial and get the truth verified by a
court of law.

This war is being fought on many fronts.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Where can I send The Money?
Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, February 01 2005 @ 11:55 AM EST
I feel a Moral Obligation to contribute a truckload of money to this initiative
too. Bruce Perens and OSRM will get a bit less then. But I think He will agree
that this is also a Good One to make people respect Intellectual Property ( If
not other people's one then at least Their Own ).

[ Reply to This | # ]

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