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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.

Licensing

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 www.softwarefreedom.org.

###

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