The Supreme Court’s April 3rd decision of the long-running dispute between Oracle and Google brings to a last victorious conclusion the free software movement’s legal campaign, which began more than thirty years ago. Though the Justices have only now resolved the issue of API copyright, it was among the first of the legal problems with which FSF and I dealt.
I am not, and SFLC is not, counsel to FSF, the GNU Project, or the GCC Steering Committee. We do not speak for any of them. I have read the GCC Steering Committee statement on copyright assignment, and on that basis I can give an independent legal opinion.
Yesterday additional companies—including CA Technologies, Cisco, HPE, Microsoft SAP, SUSE—joined Red Hat, Facebook, Google and IBM in agreeing to use GPLv3 “cure period” termination provisions with respect to their own GPLv2-licensed works, and as an additional permission on their contributions to other GPLv2-licensed programs. We at SFLC welcome this step, and we hope that other licensors will join the approach Red Hat has so successfully pioneered.
Yesterday marks three years that I have been trying to negotiate a peaceful settlement with my ex-employees, Karen Sandler and Bradley Kuhn, of various complaints SFLC and I have about the way they treat us. After all this time when they would not even meet with us to discuss our issues, the involvement of the Trademark Trial and Appeals Board in one aspect of the matter has at least created a space for structured discussion. Intermediaries both organizations work with and trust have generously taken the opportunity to communicate our settlement proposals, and we have initiated discussion through counsel. As transparency is, indeed, a valued commitment in the free software world, we think it is now time to publish our offer:
Today a coalition of major companies—led by Red Hat and including Google, IBM and Facebook—who create, modify and distribute FOSS under copyleft licenses have committed to the use of GPLv3’s approach to license termination for all their works published under the terms of GPLv2 and LGPLv2.1. Following last month’s statement to similar effect by the developers of the Linux kernel, the world’s most widely-used GPLv2 program, today’s announcement establishes a broad consensus in favor of the “notice and cure period” approach to first-time infringement issues that Richard Stallman and I adopted in GPLv3 more than a decade ago. This adoption of GPLv3’s approach for GPLv2 programs is an enormously important step in securing the long-term viability of copyleft licensing. All computer users who wish to see their rights respected by the technology they use are better off.
On Friday, while we were putting on our annual conference at Columbia Law School, a puff of near-apocalyptic rhetoric about us was published by SFLC’s former employees, Karen Sandler and Bradley Kuhn, who now manage the Conservancy, which was originally established and wholly funded by SFLC, and still bears our name. We were busy with our conference when this happened, which seems to have been the point. We are glad to have the chance now, after a little much-needed rest, to help everyone avoid unnecessary hyperventilation.
The US Internal Revenue Service has ushered in a new and much more favorable treatment for free software projects seeking to have 501c3 tax exempt non-profit organizations of their own. After years of suffering from a specially prejudicial environment at IRS, free software projects—particularly new projects starting out and seeking organizational identity and the ability to solicit and receive tax-deductible contributions for the first time—can now do so much more easily, and with confident expectation of fast, favorable review. For lawyers and others counseling free software projects, this is without question “game-changing.”
On 21-23 June 2016, Ministers and stakeholders gathered in Cancún, Mexico, for an OECD Ministerial Meeting on the Digital Economy: Innovation, Growth and Social Prosperity, to move the digital agenda forward in four key policy areas foundational to the growth of the digital economy. Our Legal Director, Mishi Choudhary represented the United States civil society at the OECD Ministerial Panel on The Economic and Social Benefits of Internet Openness, chaired by the Canadian Minister of Innovation, Science, and Economic Development Hon’ble Navdeep Singh Bains.
There has been much recent controversy concerning the relationship between the Linux Foundation and “community,” or non-commercial organizations in the world of free software. I’ve been somewhat confused by the dynamics of that conversation, which has spilled out from private mailing lists into the public eye occasionally, and I have found it useful in clarifying my own views to state my thoughts on the subject, which I’ve now decided to share.
Questions have arisen about the possible effect of Article 14.17 of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. SFLC’s analysis shows that Article 14.17 has no adverse effects on free software licensing, distribution, or government acquisition.