Open Source Lawyers Offer Free Legal Advice

Jul 14, 2009

With the Free Software Foundation Europe as the idea source, international and open source lawyers have started a publication to help the legal profession understand issues surrounding free and open source software. The lawyers have taken the open source community as a model for their project.

Under the title "International Free and Open Source Software Law Review" (or "IFOSS L.Rev."), the legal journal offers advice to the law profession on copyrights, license implentation and interpretation, software patents, open standards, case law and statutory changes. The law journal with case studies, commentary and discussion is to appear twice yearly on paper and online. An illustrious circle of law experts worldwide act as its publisher. Participants include Google's corporate counsel Daniel Berlin, Ywein Van den Brande from Belgium, Carlo Piana from Ital, Mark Webbink of the New York Law School, David Vaile from Australia's Cyberspace Law and Policy Centre, and Brendan Scott from Open Source Law. Karen Copenhaver, legal counsel for the Linux Foundation, is also enthusiastic about the project, "For many years the focus in the legal community has been on raising questions about free and open source software licenses and development models. With this journal we have turned the page and begun to focus on the answers". She opines, "It is rewarding to see lawyers adopting collaborative models to share knowledge and work product, arrive at common understandings, and further the development of the necessary legal ecosystem around free and open source software.."

Linux Magazine was quick to reach founding members about such information as financing for the project. A large part comes from contributions, also partly from the European Legal Network (ELN) that was originally given birth by the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE). The lawyers are glad of any new colleagues wanting to join the project. Mark Webbink says that this includes "Anyone interested in promulgating free and open source software and who is sponsored by an existing member." These can then become members of the editorial board. "We asked for volunteers, and a number of us foolishly failed to take a step backward," he says in jest. "We will continue to invite members of ELN to participate."

Independent Italian lawyer and counsel to the FSFE Carlo Piana had quite personal reasons for wanting to participate: "Spreading words on what Free/open source software is, what the real threats are (as opposed to the fake ones) and how they can effectively be addressed, is something I have been doing for the last five years, always repeating more or less the same things in different environments. Always hearing the same question, 'where can I find more information on these topics'." The collaborative legal journal should bring this discussion to a high level, according to Piana, and should "gather interest from a wide audience within many of the core protagonists of the FOSS 'revolution' (companies, lawyers, developers and activist)." New York law professor Webbink considers the FOSS developers a model for legal collaboration: "We (the public and legal counselors) are deeply appreciative of the knowledge, time and effort contributed in collaborative software efforts by free and open source software developers. At one level then, it only stands to reason that we (at least the legal counselors) should be willing to make a similar contribution to the understanding of the legal issues surrounding free and open source software." He also considers the collaboration the best way to "properly address the legal issues that arise, giving each of us the ability to be better informed and to be better advocates on behalf of our free and open source software clients."

The first issue of the IFOSSLR is available for free download from the project website and can also be ordered in a printed edition. The authors put their articles under licensing allowing free copying and distribution under specified conditions.

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