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.
Last week, to the surprise of patent lawyers and the biotechnology industry, advocates for technological freedom won an enormous victory against socially harmful distortions of patent law. The Federal District Court for the Southern District of New York held invalid patents owned by Myriad Genetics on diagnostic testing for genetic susceptibility to the most common hereditary forms of breast and ovarian cancer. By “patenting” the right to determine whether the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are present in the relevant mutated form in a women’s genome, Myriad Genetics has been able to exclude all other laboratories from conducting the test. Patients and their insurers have paid much more, and women and their families have waited crucial weeks longer than necessary for information relevant to treatment and potentially affecting survival.