A Legal Issues Primer for Open Source and Free Software Projects. Fontana, R., Kuhn, B. M., Moglen, E., Norwood, M., Ravicher, D. B., Sandler, K., Vasile, J., & Williamson, A. Software Freedom Law Center, Inc., 1995 Broadway, New York, United States, Version 1.5.1 edition, March, 2008.
abstract   bibtex   
Introduction. We at the Software Freedom Law Center are extremely fortunate because we get to provide legal assistance to some of the world's leading free and open source software (FOSS) projects. We are inspired by the hard work and commitment of FOSS developers to produce code that can be freely shared and modified, and it is our mission to help make sure that those developers have a legal environment which allows their work to flourish. Our intended audience for this Primer is any person interested in a basic understanding of the legal issues that impact FOSS development and distribution. In particular, this Primer, like most of our other public work at SFLC, is addressed to two constituencies. First, we provide creative, productive hackers insight on how to interact with the legal system – insofar as it affects the projects they work on – with a minimum of cost, fuss and risk. Second, we present a starting point for lawyers and risk managers for thinking about the particular, at times counter-intuitive, logic of software freedom. While these are the primary audiences we intend to reach, we hope others will benefit from this Primer as well, and we have purposefully given it a non-lawyer style of communication (for example, by intentionally omitting dense citation of judicial or other legal authority that is the hallmark of lawyers writing for lawyers). While FOSS development can raise many legal issues, a few topics predominate in our work; these are the issues most integral to FOSS projects. This Primer provides a baseline of knowledge about those areas of the law, intending to support productive conversations between clients and lawyers about specific legal needs. We aim to improve the conversation between lawyer and client, but not to make it unnecessary, because law, like most things in life, very rarely has clear cut answers. Solutions for legal problems must be crafted in light of the particulars of each client's situation. What is best for one client in one situation, may very well not be best for another client in the same situation, or even the same client in the same situation at a later date or in a different place. Law cannot yield attainable certainty because it is dynamic, inconsistent, and incapable of mastery by pure rote memorization. This is why we do not provide forms or other tools for '' do it yourself'' lawyering, which are almost always insufficient and, in fact, can be very harmful to a project's interests. The specific topics addressed herein are: 1. copyrights and licensing, 2. organizational structure, 3. patents, and 4. trademarks. They are presented in this order because that most closely aligns with the life-cycle of the legal needs of a typical FOSS project. When code is written, copyrights immediately come into being. The terms under which the owner of those copyrights allows others to copy, modify and distribute the code determine whether it is considered '' free'' and/or '' open source.'' Once a project gains speed, many benefits can be achieved by the creation of an organizational entity for the project that is separate from the project's individual developers. After successful public release of a project, patent and trademark issues may arise that need attention. Thus, this Primer proceeds in what is, to us, a very logical order. In closing, we are extremely pleased and honored to present this Primer and hope that it will benefit both those FOSS projects we already know and those we look forward to meeting in the future.
@book{fontanaLegalIssuesPrimer2008,
  title = {A Legal Issues Primer for Open Source and Free Software Projects},
  author = {Fontana, Richard and Kuhn, Bradley M. and Moglen, Eben and Norwood, Matthew and Ravicher, Daniel B. and Sandler, Karen and Vasile, James and Williamson, Aaron},
  year = {2008},
  month = mar,
  edition = {Version 1.5.1},
  publisher = {{Software Freedom Law Center, Inc.}},
  address = {{1995 Broadway, New York, United States}},
  abstract = {Introduction.

We at the Software Freedom Law Center are extremely fortunate because we get to provide legal assistance to some of the world's leading free and open source software (FOSS) projects. We are inspired by the hard work and commitment of FOSS developers to produce code that can be freely shared and modified, and it is our mission to help make sure that those developers have a legal environment which allows their work to flourish.

Our intended audience for this Primer is any person interested in a basic understanding of the legal issues that impact FOSS development and distribution. In particular, this Primer, like most of our other public work at SFLC, is addressed to two constituencies. First, we provide creative, productive hackers insight on how to interact with the legal system -- insofar as it affects the projects they work on -- with a minimum of cost, fuss and risk. Second, we present a starting point for lawyers and risk managers for thinking about the particular, at times counter-intuitive, logic of software freedom. While these are the primary audiences we intend to reach, we hope others will benefit from this Primer as well, and we have purposefully given it a non-lawyer style of communication (for example, by intentionally omitting dense citation of judicial or other legal authority that is the hallmark of lawyers writing for lawyers).

While FOSS development can raise many legal issues, a few topics predominate in our work; these are the issues most integral to FOSS projects. This Primer provides a baseline of knowledge about those areas of the law, intending to support productive conversations between clients and lawyers about specific legal needs. We aim to improve the conversation between lawyer and client, but not to make it unnecessary, because law, like most things in life, very rarely has clear cut answers. Solutions for legal problems must be crafted in light of the particulars of each client's situation. What is best for one client in one situation, may very well not be best for another client in the same situation, or even the same client in the same situation at a later date or in a different place. Law cannot yield attainable certainty because it is dynamic, inconsistent, and incapable of mastery by pure rote memorization. This is why we do not provide forms or other tools for '' do it yourself'' lawyering, which are almost always insufficient and, in fact, can be very harmful to a project's interests.

The specific topics addressed herein are:

 1. copyrights and licensing, 2. organizational structure, 3. patents, and 4. trademarks.

They are presented in this order because that most closely aligns with the life-cycle of the legal needs of a typical FOSS project. When code is written, copyrights immediately come into being. The terms under which the owner of those copyrights allows others to copy, modify and distribute the code determine whether it is considered '' free'' and/or '' open source.'' Once a project gains speed, many benefits can be achieved by the creation of an organizational entity for the project that is separate from the project's individual developers. After successful public release of a project, patent and trademark issues may arise that need attention. Thus, this Primer proceeds in what is, to us, a very logical order.

In closing, we are extremely pleased and honored to present this Primer and hope that it will benefit both those FOSS projects we already know and those we look forward to meeting in the future.},
  keywords = {*imported-from-citeulike-INRMM,~INRMM-MiD:c-11617838,free-software,freedom,knowledge-freedom,multiauthor,open-source,software-patents},
  lccn = {INRMM-MiD:c-11617838}
}
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