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To read comments to this article, go here
The Free Software Act
Saturday, December 20 2003 @ 05:28 AM EST

I noticed an article on something called the Free Software Act, which is currently being drafted by the Free Software Consortium Legal Governing Body. I was interested to note that some brain power is going into figuring out a way to prevent any future SCO-like events. There is an effort to create something internationally useful, stronger than the license-on-top-of-copyright GPL, a law specifically designed to protect free software. I especially noted the wording on warranty.

I found it interesting enough that I contacted the author, Maureen O'Sullivan, who is a lecturer in Law in the UK and President of the Free Software Consortium Foundation and also co-ordinator of its Legal Governing Body and Cyber Tribunal, and asked her if we could publish it here on Groklaw. She agreed and sent the following introductory remarks as well as the second draft of the Free Software Act, which is still a work in progress, and she welcomes your comments:

"Free software relies for its protection on the legislative regime tailored for proprietary software. Its effective use of copyright and licenses to achieve the opposite of what these were designed for is a type of socio-legal subterfuge which thrilled me to the core when I first encountered it. The GNU GPL especially is the subject of many attacks, ranging from descriptions of it as a 'cancer' to the more recent and, indeed, serious SCO v IBM case which has tried to find a legal premise on which to shake its hegemony. Early signs from the case seem to indicate that SCO may have bitten off more than they can chew; yet, the case is extremely vexatious and wastes time and money which could be spent better by the free software community in general.

"A pre-emptive strike against future SCO-type cases is being developed by the Free Software Consortium Legal Governing Body, which I co- ordinate. My draft free software act goes a step further than free software licensing: it offers additional protections not generally granted by licenses and also raises the possibility of a homogeneous, international legislative protection of free software. I am working with Richard Stallman on ironing out several incompatibilities in the draft at present (it is still quite embryonic). The intention is to produce a free software act which would protect all free software licenses rather than confining them to copyleft which would undoubtedly prove divisive.

"The Free Software Group in the Costa Rican Congress is currently revising the draft with a view to presenting it as a UN treaty. The Act follows this introduction. Comments are solicited and welcome. To participate in the general discussion, please post a comment to Fsact@lists.fsc.cc or you can contact me direct at maureen@fsc.cc."

***********************************************************

DRAFT

FREE SOFTWARE ACT

Recitals:

(i) “Free software” for the purposes of this Act is not a technical definition. Instead, it is software licensed under free software licences which assures users, copiers, modifiers, distributors and any other beneficiaries of free software of certain freedoms. The objective of this Act is to clarify and strengthen the rights of the aforementioned which are already enjoyed in practice.

(ii) Any user, copier, modifier, distributor or any other beneficiary of free software has standing to sue for any violation of this Act.

Sections:

1. Free software guarantees the following freedoms to its users, copiers, modifiers, distributors and any other beneficiaries of free software:

(a) The right to access the source code of any free software program for any reason.

(b) The right to run the program for any reason.

(c) The right to copy the program for any reason.

(d) The right to modify the program for any reason.

(e) The right to distribute the program for any reason.

(f) Authors’ rights:

(i) The author of any free software program retains the right of attribution to his/her work.

(ii) Any modifier must acknowledge the authorship of the original version, along with the authorship of the modification.

(iii) Authorship should always be correctly attributed.

(g) All users, copiers, modifiers, distributors and any beneficiaries of free software have the right to know about and be informed about the rights listed in section 1 of this Act.

2. Distributors of free software, whether in its original, copied or modified form, when distributing the program, may not restrict any of the rights in section 1.

3. A charge may be made for the program, providing that all rights in section 1 are preserved.

4. Exemptions from liability:

(a) When any free software programmer, while engaged in free software development, inadvertently violates a proprietary software licence, s/he will be exempt from any liability whatsoever.

(b) When any free software programmer, while engaged in free software development, inadvertently violates a software copyright, s/he will be exempt from any liability whatsoever.

(c) There should be no warranties for free software, unless such a warranty has been requested by the purchaser, agreed to by the vendor and paid for appropriately.

5. Users, copiers, modifiers, distributors and any other beneficiaries of free software are bound by the contractual conditions of any licence or licences which apply to the program or programs they use.

6. Where a program has been developed in more than one jurisdiction, each with different copyright requirements, the provisions of this Act will apply.

7. Sanctions:

Any violation of this Act will result in an obligation on the part of those responsible or of third parties to give access to the source code of any modified program based on free software.

Further sanctions may be imposed by the courts.

8. Definitions:

The Program: The “program” in this Act means the program, copies of the program, modified versions of the program and copies of modified versions of the program and source code of the same.

Use:

Run:

Copy:

Modify:

Distribute:

User:
Copier:
Modifier:
Distributor:
Beneficiary of free software:
Free software programmer:

© Maureen O’Sullivan, B.A., DipL., B.C.L.(Cork), LL.M.(Warwick), Lecturer in Law (Property and New Technologies), UWE, UK, President Free Software Consortium Foundation, Co-ordinator Cyber Tribunal and Legal Governing Body, FSC © 2003, This document may be reproduced verbatim in any medium, providing that this attribution is preserved.


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