Free and open source software projects live on the web—even projects that don’t build web applications use software repositories, forums, social networks, project management software, and other online tools to engage developers. But with user engagement comes a certain amount of risk: if a user posts copyright-infringing content to a project’s site, the project could find itself threatened with a lawsuit for hosting the content. A compliant DMCA policy gives the project a ready defense to claims related to user activity. Without one, even a bogus claim could cost the project significantly more time and legal expense.
Twin Peaks Software, Inc., which makes proprietary data replication and cloud storage software, sued Red Hat and its subsidiary Gluster for patent infringement back in February. Last week, Red Hat filed a counterclaim in that litigation, alleging copyright infringement by Twin Peaks in misappropriating GPL’d software. Today SFLC begins an investigation of Twin Peaks’ products, to ascertain whether any of our clients’ rights are being infringed through the violation of FOSS licenses.
In his keynote from the 28th Chaos Communication Congress last week, Cory Doctorow outlines the primary threat to software freedom in the 21st century: that as our lives become more dependent upon general-purpose computers, the attempts of industry and government to control computing will fundamentally endanger our personal liberty. Using the now-familiar history of digital rights management—its rise, its failure, and legislative efforts to enforce it—Cory illustrates how those threatened by technology will inevitably seek to cripple it. But the so-called copyright wars waged by content owners, he says, were only “a skirmish.”
OSCON is probably the single largest annual gathering of free software developers in the world, so it’s always a good opportunity for SFLC to catch up with the projects we work with and to make new friends in the community. I only got to spend two days at OSCON 2011, but in that time I met and talked shop (and microbrews and vegan donuts) with lots of folks who are making impressive contributions to free software. I also got to talk about Legal Basics for Developers with Karen Sandler to a fantastic and engaged audience.
Black Duck Software recently published some summary statistics about free and open source software license adoption, based on data it collected by crawling the web. The report lists “top 20 licenses that are used in open source projects” and the proportion of projects which use each license, as well as historical figures purportedly representing the number of projects using and planning to use GPLv3 variants for each month of the last two years. Because of inherent difficulties in collecting this kind of data, and because Black Duck’s own methods are opaque and unverifiable, the report is largely meaningless.