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New FOSS Legal Center Seeks To Limit Microsoft's Intimidation Potential

FSF, Samba, WINE, and Debian Will Also Be Represented By the SFLC

Eben Moglen, the Columbia University Law professor who serves as general counsel to both the Free Software Foundation (FSF) and the Samba Project, has formed a Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC) to provide pro bono legal services to non-profit open source software products and developers worldwide starting with FSF and Samba.

WINE and Debian will also be represented by the SFLC, Eben said.

The move is an outgrowth of the $5 billion lawsuit SCO has lodged against IBM contesting the ownership of the code IBM contributed to Linux and the threat that Microsoft will rattle its growing patent portfolio under open source noses.

The center is not intended as a "warrior organization" focused on litigation or "fire fighting," Eben said.

Instead it's meant to deprive Microsoft of the opportunity to spread any "fear, uncertainty and doubt" by ensuring that the center's clients are clean to begin with. Microsoft has reportedly been trying to scare users off Linux by citing its alleged patent infringement.

Unidentified members of the Open Source Development Labs (OSDL) have contributed upwards of $4 million to a new purpose-built IP fund to seed the New York-based legal center.

OSDL says it is not affiliated with the reportedly independent initiative and that the SFLC will seek other funding elsewhere.

OSDL's general counsel Diane Peters will, however, sit on the SFLC board as will Moglen, Stanford Law professor Lawrence Lessig and Daniel Weitzner, a lawyer and principal research scientist at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab.

In a canned statement Lessig said, "Both free and open source software face many emerging legal threats. We should be skeptical of legal mechanisms that enable those most threatened by the success of open source and free software to resist its advance. The Law Center will serve as important support for the free and open source communities and for those that benefit from free and open source software."

The advice the center intends to provide is supposed to cover so-called asset stewardship (the key service including best practices to avoid third-party intellectual property claims), licensing, license defense and litigation support as well as legal consulting and lawyer training.

The center is supposed to be license-neutral but will participate in the Free Software Foundation's effort, now underway, to revise the General Public License (GPL). It will also work on issues around the proliferation of open source licenses, which now number way more than anybody needs.

SFLC is supposed to have two full-time IP attorneys on staff this summer - IP-savvy young things "forced back into law school because of the dot.com bust," Eben said - and there are plans to expand that number to four later this year.

Daniel Ravicher, who began the non-profit patent-challenging Public Patent Foundation (PubPat) and is a senior counsel to FSF, has been named SFLC's full-time legal director. Eben made it clear that PubPat work would have to take a back seat.

PubPat brought the US Patent and Trademark Office evidence of prior art that has put one of the four patents Microsoft holds of the Windows File System in jeopardy. Eben has previously said that the so-called FAT patents could sink Linux, which also uses the file system.

Eben said his five-year plan for the center is to have 15 full-time lawyers on staff. He hopes to limit his own role to strategy and client recruitment.

Eben said he would "cherry pick" SFLC's clients, ideally getting them at an "early stage." For a mature project like Samba that would mean early in a rev like the anticipated Samba 4, which may contain some surprising workarounds as far as Microsoft protocols go.

See www.softwarefreedom.org.

More Stories By Maureen O'Gara

Maureen O'Gara the most read technology reporter for the past 20 years, is the Cloud Computing and Virtualization News Desk editor of SYS-CON Media. She is the publisher of famous "Billygrams" and the editor-in-chief of "Client/Server News" for more than a decade. One of the most respected technology reporters in the business, Maureen can be reached by email at maureen(at)sys-con.com or paperboy(at)g2news.com, and by phone at 516 759-7025. Twitter: @MaureenOGara

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Most Recent Comments
George Bush 02/08/05 04:49:37 AM EST

For the record: SCO is *not* " contesting the ownership of the code IBM contributed to Linux ".

Chris Hall 02/07/05 01:20:56 PM EST

Good grief Daniel, are you still flogging that dead horse about section 301?

You were wrong about it a year ago and you are wrong about it now - the GPL is still in effect no matter how many times you trot this out.

fudisbad 02/07/05 05:32:35 AM EST

This is old news. Roughly a week old. Nothing to see here, move along. Not even the usual shill article one would expect from O'Gara.

As for the ads, can you put them in an IFRAME or a FRAME? And make your website standards compliant? It's not that hard. Probably no one clicks on them anyway...

ads hell 02/06/05 03:13:33 PM EST

It looks there is no (common)sense in displaying Ads on this site.

take care 02/06/05 03:11:15 PM EST

I am not commenting on the article, but the way it has been presented to me by this website.

It is hard, but there is no way. Please learn to grow.

What has been said on the home page is no where discussed in the article. in other terms the home page content is provoking the readers to read this article.

Daniel Wallace 02/06/05 12:04:08 PM EST

Eben Moglen needs to have the words:

"Any copyright license term that affects a third party with
respect to one of the exclusive rights granted in section
106 of the Copyright Act is preempted by section 301."

chisled above the entrance to the SFLC headquarters.

Eben Moglen and FOSS zealots aptly characterize the
description "the blind leading the blind".