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The International Free and Open Source Software Law Review - Call for Papers
Tuesday, October 12 2010 @ 04:23 AM EDT

There is now a legal publication with the goal of explaining FOSS issues to lawyers. It's the first peer-reviewed law review entirely devoted just to the legal issues of FOSS. It's called The International Free and Open Source Software Law Review, or IFOSSLR, and it's "a collaborative legal publication aiming to increase knowledge and understanding among lawyers about Free and Open Source Software issues," as they describe it. If this is an area of law that interests you, X marks the spot. Here's the current issue. Currently there is a call for papers for the next issue. Of course, if you are lawyer, they'd welcome your input, not only with authoring articles but with peer review. If you are not a lawyer, but have expertise of another relevant kind, they are still interested in your contributions.

IFOSSLR covers copyrights, license interpretation and implementation, software patents, open standards, case law and statutory changes. It's international in scope. So if you would like to understand, say, a FOSS license, or how to set up policies in your company so as to use FOSS appropriately and legally, or what your project should consider regarding copyright ownership, IFOSS is building a body of accessible information. And you can download entire issues as PDF. Everything is under a Creative Commons license. Or you can order, through Lulu, printed copies.

From the Mission Statement:

The purpose of IFOSSLR is to look behind the rhetoric surrounding the legal issues of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) in a rigorous and objective fashion, questioning received wisdom in the field and bringing academic discipline to its study. Its mission is to consolidate knowledge on the legal aspects of FOSS, to professionalise research and discussion, to act as an education resource for users, creators and advisors and to provide a connection point to the FOSS marketplace and community. It is intended to provide utility for anyone interested in FOSS as well as its core audience of legal practitioners and academics.

IFOSSLR seeks to provide excellence in the analysis of legal issues facing the development, deployment and governance of FOSS, presenting the perspectives of knowledgable professionals and exploring how a sustainable market can be obtained. It looks at issues of copyright, licence implementation and interpretation, software patents, open standards, case law and legislation and pertinent non-legal issues through peer-reviewed full length articles, review of legislation, case law and books. It also provides a "Platform" for expressing informed and perceptive opinions which are likely to advance debate and discussion in the wider community.

IFOSSLR articles are published under content licenses that permit commercial re-use, with a preference for Creative Commons BY-ND.

Here are some answers to questions about the publication and the lawyers behind it, including more information on how they would like to work with additional legal experts and those with other expertise:
Q: How did this publication get started?

IFOSSLR was started by an initiative from the the participants of the European Legal Network (ELN). ELN is the biggest independent and non-partisan group of legal experts, industry representatives and academics with an interest in Free and Open Source Software (FOSS ) in the world. Don't be deceived by the word "European" in the name: you name a country and ELN probably has a member. The ELN was started and is still facilitated by Free Software Foundation Europe.

The founding Editorial Committee was made up of a group of volunteers from the ELN. We were very lucky to be supported by a group of generous founding donors, including Harvey Anderson at Mozilla and the NLnet Foundation, who provided initial funding and infrastructure respectively.

IFOSSLR is inclusive by design. Many of the articles have been from ELN participants who are not editors, and even more have come from people with no direct association with the ELN. We plan to rotate the editorial membership over time to keep things fresh and give others the opportunity to help edit the first ever peer-reviewed, independent legal publication exclusively dedicated to FOSS. We will also make sure that all the knowledge we have built up is not lost by keeping experienced members around to help.

Q: How did the Editorial Committee decide on the ambitious objectives contained in the mission statement?

We always proceed upon consensus. It has been easier to reach than you might expect, with a bunch of lawyers. The initial decisions were taken by the larger network which stood us in good stead for our ongoing work.

Q: How specifically is the publication organized?

The publication is divided into sections, including full articles, case law reports, book reviews and "Platform", a space intended to work like an op-ed column, facilitating reasoned opinion and debate. We publish a call for papers with an indication of what we expect from authors in each section. The Editorial Committee decides where the proposed contribution fits best taking into account the suggestions of the peer reviewers. The Editorial Committee is assisted by two Editorial Coordinators, who manage the review process and produce the final issue.

The publication has two forms: online and printed editions. Both have the same content and so far we have not published any article in advance of its printed publication, but we are not ruling this out for future issues.

The review process is 'single-blind': the peer reviewers are anonymous from the point of view of the author of a paper, but reviewers know who wrote the paper. In the future we might decide to switch to a double-blind system, but so far it's such a small world that in many cases this attempt would be futile to an experienced peer reviewer. We do not normally disclose the identity of reviewers for a particular article after publication.

It is also important to highlight that the publication is Open Access, with articles under Creative Commons licenses. We use the Open Journals System software to keep track of everything, along with MediaWiki and private email lists.

Q: Why not just publish through an existing law school or legal website?

There are a lot of very good articles published elsewhere, but what did not exist was a publication entirely dedicated to the legal issues of FOSS. Our editorial line actively solicits contributions and discussion on certain topics of interest, but we are not under the influence of any one organisation or point of view, and we welcome informed debate.

The mandate of non-partisanship was a natural consequence of the fact that the initiative to begin the journal came from the ELN, which is a very inclusive forum. We did not feel that there was a similarly neutral, yet focused, forum for the dissemination of more formal versions of the useful discussions which happen in the ELN.

So the knowledge existed, but it was sparsely distributed, and our goal was to pool that into one place. We aim to be a focal point of discussions at an international level.

Q: Who has been financing the publication?

We are financed by sponsors. Major financial supporters include Mozilla Foundation and Open Innovation Network (OIN). As of the last issue we have hosted paid advertisements by HP and Blackduck, and we are always looking for new sponsors and advertisers. Thankfully we have managed to keep our overhead very low.

Q: What challenges has IFOSSLR faced in its first year?

Every step has been a challenge. To form a law review from scratch, give it an editorial line, and define rules and principles (including the decision-taking process) took a large amount of time and effort. We are a bunch of busy practising lawyers working long hours and meeting over the phone, so it can be hard to get us all together and to find time for this.

The biggest challenge was and is to produce high-level contributions in the strict time period allotted for each publication. Six months seems a long time, but the work behind each article and edition is immense and we are all volunteers.

Q: Which articles published stand out as its greatest accomplishments?

Its really hard and would be unfair to pick any one article out. All of the contributors have worked very hard to achieve their articles. The accomplishment is perhaps not in a single article, but in the creation of a body of knowledge and accessible information that is extended with each new issue.

The 'Risk Grid' [PDF] is however something that would not generally be available in law journals, and it reflects a practical and useful approach to the FOSS matters. It is the distillation of the work of many experts in the field who have conducted a special interest group through the ELN. It was published in Volume I, Issue I.

Q: What is coming next?

Much much more. We will cover the Bilski case and what it means in the overall patent picture. The next issue is due for the end of this year and picking up on the New York Law School copyright article we will also be looking at Project Harmony. We are interested in having several voices from several points of view.

Q: How would you like to work with other legal experts in the field?

We welcome all kinds of contributions from legal experts. IFOSSLR has made a big impact in a short space of time, but it is still in its infancy, so we're grateful for any time that experts can donate to us. Experts can help by assisting with peer reviews, submitting an article, working on our Editorial Committee or championing the publication in their organisation or institution. At the moment, we are particularly keen to take on new peer reviewers to enhance the breadth and depth of expertise available in our review pool.

Article submissions are always open, and we would stress that as IFOSSLR seeks to bridge the divide between the legal and technical communities around FOSS, we expressly welcome articles from non-lawyers, where they have expertise or insight of another kind to share. Our 'Tech Watch' column is an example of this inclusive approach.

Q: Given the experience of the Editorial Committee, what are your predictions for the next twelve months in FOSS legal affairs?

The trend is clear: FOSS is the most significant leap forward in the industry in legal and social terms after the development of the Internet. Everyone involved in IT should have at least some knowledge of this field, and their lawyers certainly need to understand the issues. FOSS is ubiquitous: not only is it in servers and PCs, but it is also increasingly important in new market segments such as embedded devices, smartphones and TV sets.

The more software is used, the more FOSS that will be around. In more and more fields, companies, individuals and governments are finding that a proprietary approach simply does not make sense. For example, Internet and cloud services (Twitter, Google, Facebook, Amazon, to name a few) are all FOSS-intensive.

Specifically for the next 12 months, our 'crystal ball' (which runs on FOSS of course) shows us that we will see more work against patent trolls from those interested in FOSS and Linux. The next working group of the ELN, which is focused on App Stores, will deliver benefits for the legal community, and we hope that this work can be showcased in IFOSSLR, as was the case with the Risk Grid.

Here's an example of a Tech Watch article, Patents and their effect on Standards: Open video codecs for HTML5, by Silvia Pfeiffer, a CEO, not a lawyer. Here's another by Funambol's CEO, Fabricio Capobianca, Five Reasons To Care About Mobile Cloud Computing.

You can submit a paper for consideration on their website, using their template (which you can download here [PDF]), and in ODT or RTF formats. Here are their author guidelines. From that page:

Submission Preparation Checklist

As part of the submission process, authors are required to check off their submission's compliance with all of the following items, and submissions may be returned to authors that do not adhere to these guidelines.

1. The work is my own, and I have given due credit to the work of others by the appropriate use of references.

2. I declare that I possess sufficient rights over the work to submit it for publication.

3. The submission file uses the International Free and Open Source Software Law Review template, either in ODT or RTF format.

4. The text adheres to the stylistic and bibliographic requirements outlined in the Author Guidelines for the journal.

5. Where available, URLs for references have been provided.

6. I consent to the review process as outlined on the journal web site.

7. If I have a financial or direct professional interest in a case mentioned in this submission (e.g. I am counsel on case), I will declare all such interests as part of the submission process. Further, I declare that my submission of this article complies with all bar rules or other professional regulations which may apply to me.

And you have to agree to a Creative Commons license on your work.

The editors and the authors are some names you'll recognize and the community respects. Here's the Editorial Committee:

Malcolm Bain, ID Law Partners, Spain
Martin von Willebrand, HH Partners, Attorneys-at-law; Validos, Finland
Richard Fontana, Red Hat, USA
Amanda Brock, Canonical, United Kingdom
Andrew Katz, Moorcrofts, United Kingdom
Brendan Scott, Open Source Law, Australia
Carlo Piana, Avv. Carlo Piana, Italy
Iain G Mitchell QC, United Kingdom
Martin von Haller Grønbæk, Bender von Haller Dragsted, Denmark
Mark Webbink, New York Law School, United States
Michel Jaccard, BCCC Avocats, Switzerland
Tomasz Rychlicki, PATPOL, Poland
Ywein Van den Brande, De Bandt Keustermans & Van den Brande, Belgium
There have been three issues published so far, and to give you a taste, here's an article by Luis Villa, Lawyers in the Bazaar: Challenges and Opportunities for Open Source Legal Communities. The abstract:
There is a fairly common perception among members of the Free and Open Source software (FOSS) developer community that there is no equivalent community of FOSS lawyers. Despite that perception, the FOSS legal community exists and is growing. This note will explore the gap between the perception and the reality, first by briefly surveying the state of the FOSS legal community, and then by exploring the reasons why there is such a disconnect between the lawyers and the community of our clients. Finally, it will suggest some ways in which this nascent community might invest in improving itself.
Here's one by Carlo Piana, Italian Constitutional Court gives way to Free-Software friendly laws":
The Constitutional Court in Italy has ruled on the compliance with the Italian Constitution of a Regional law issued by Piedmont on Free and Open Source Software and Open Standard. The result is that a Regional law can give more “weight” in public procurements to offers that provide Free Software and implement Open Standards. The Court holds that a similar provision is compatible with the Constitution and – more specifically – such a preference is not against competition. This ruling dismantles therefore one of the most cunning objections against similar provisions that blossom across Europe, because it does not give preference to a technical solution, but rather to a peculiar asset of rights.
Another, this one by Mark Webbink, Omar Johnny, and Mark Miller, Copyright in Open Source Software - Understanding the Boundaries:
Copyright ownership tends not to be an issue in closed-source, software development. In that model an individual or business owns - or in-licenses - the copyright in all of the code used in the software application, licenses it to end-users under a binary-only license, and relies on a combination of copyright and trade secret law to enforce contractual rights in the code. By contrast, when software is developed in an open source model, copyright issues abound, and many of these copyright issues are not well understood by software developers. This lack of understanding can undermine the intent of the developers and can potentially lead to unattractive outcomes. As early as the launch of conceptual design in open source software, issues can arise as to ownership of the work and its progeny. When a wide range of hands can touch the open source code, ownership and rights in the code can become blurred. Moreover, not all code contributions to an open source project will be protected by copyright. This paper seeks to explore the application of U.S. copyright law to software, and particularly software that is developed and licensed under an open source model. We address the boundaries of copyright protection and ownership, the importance of intent, timing and creative expression in determining these boundaries, and provide guidance to those looking to launch open source projects.
The issue before this one had an article on trademarks, Passport Without A Visa: Open Source Software Licensing and Trademarks and another by Karen Copenhaver on managing FOSS in the enterprise, Open Source Policies and Processes For In-Bound Software.

So that should give you an idea of what they are looking for, as well as what you can find in this historic and unique publication.


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