by Christopher Lindquist

Free Open Source Legal Advice

May 01, 20062 mins

In researching an upcoming article on open source licenses, I stumbled across this gem (warning: the actual files are in a 72-page PDF). It’s the collected presentations from a 2005 Franklin Pierce Law Center symposium on free software and open source.

Speakers at the time included a who’s who in open source legal thinking, including Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software Foundation, Daniel Ravicher, legal director of the Software Freedom Law Center,  Ed Walsh from IP legal powerhouse Wolf Greenfield & Sacks, and Karen Copenhaver, past General Counsel for software IP compliance company Black Duck Software.

The presentations range from the more abstract–such as Stallman’s discussion of how he means free as in “freedom” not free as in “no cost”–to Copenhaver’s more pragmatic advice on how to engage in due diligence for software code compliance while minimizing the legal risks inherent in even beginning such an investigation. (Quick answer: Establish a schedule for the investigation with a set date on which to inform senior executives of the results–including suggested remediation. Doing so, Copenhaver says, will make it “much easier to answer questions about why the executive was not made aware of preliminary information that became available three months into the process.” Plausible deniability is where it’s at.)

In some cases, you just get the supporting materials from what was a panel discussion–which is too bad. Peter Moldave of Gesmer Updegrove apparently moderated a panel on comparing various open source licenses, but all we get to see is a chart comparing the GPL, Mozilla Public License and the BSD License and the text of an assortment of other licenses. In other cases, the discussion spirals into serious legalese (it was a law school symposium after all.)

But all in all, the PDF is worth the download time.