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LinuxCon Preview: Eben Moglen on Bilski and Online Privacy

 

After its sold-out debut last year, LinuxCon in year two is expected to be even better. My colleagues at The Linux Foundation have worked with the community to ensure this year's program addresses all matters Linux and provides developers, operations managers and business executives with opportunities to discuss the most timely and relevant issues and opportunities for Linux in the enterprise.

The program is littered with the Who's Who of Linux and open source. One of this year's speakers truly stands out as a pioneer in helping to protect free and open source software and projects: the chairman of the Software Freedom Law Center, Eben Moglen. Eben is also a Columbia University Law School professor and one of the original authors of the world's most widely used software license, the General Public License (under which the Linux kernel is licensed).

Eben's perspectives on the legal landscape as it relates to software are highly sought after by the press, students and technology companies and projects of all sizes from around the world. At LinuxCon, he will explore the direction free software is taking over the next five years, a period that he refers to as "Stage 2." (He speaks on Wednesday, August 11 at 4 p.m.)

I talked to Eben just prior to the Bilski vs Kappos ruling and asked him what the most pressing issue was for software development from a legal perspective. He told me that regardless of the outcome of the Bilski case, the issues between free software and the patent system "remain the most legally complex and strategically challenging part of the landscape." But he contends that the free software community has demonstrated how copyright law that encourages sharing works and pointed to Creative Commons as an example.

"We have succeeded in showing both developers and commercial distributors that our method for using copyright law to encourage sharing works, legally and commercially. We have profoundly affected not only how software is made and acquired around the world, but also how cultural production of every other kind is distributed, thanks to the close relationship between free software and Creative Commons. In these respects, our legal arrangements are not only workable, they are superior to the much more costly and cumbersome machinery of proprietary exclusive rights. But the misuse of the patent system to produce 'ownership' of algorithms and other intangible mental processes continues to threaten our ability to innovate."

The Supreme Court ruled on Bilski vs Kappos just last week and Eben commented publicly that "the landscape of patent law has been a cluttered, dangerous mess for almost two decades. The confusion and uncertainty behind today's ruling guarantees that the issues involved in Bilski v. Kappos will have to return to the Supreme Court after much money has been wasted and much innovation obstructed."

The SFLC filed a brief in the Bilski case arguing that software is not patentable subject matter. It is available on its website. I expect him to fervently use this case as an example when he speaks in Boston later this summer.

Eben has also been speaking and addressing the issues surrounding online privacy. He recently spoke at NYU about this very issue and it was reported that he inspired the Facebook alternative Diaspora. You can see notes from the speech published on the SFLC website, but it's safe to say that he is concerned about what he calls the "online neighborhood" and the rights to privacy that the global community has so quickly forfeited. I wouldn't expect a keynote from Eben to not mention this issue, so be prepared for a good mix of intellectual and practical insight on this very important topic at LinuxCon.

The SFLC was founded in 2005 and provides pro bono legal services to free and open source software projects. I worked with Eben when he launched the Center and since then it has seen significant increases in demand for its services. When asked about the Center, Eben focused on the important work that today it's doing in countries around the world.

"Significant public policy discussions about patent law and competition/antitrust will be going on in the US, Europe, India and China in contexts that immediately concerns the Free World. Our sister organization, SFLC in India, began operating earlier this year and we will continue to expand our activities in the coming year to support burgeoning international free software communities in Russia, China, and elsewhere around the globe."

Seeing Eben speak is a great opportunity as are the other chances to see insiders discuss the most important topics for Linux and open source this year. If you haven't registered for LinuxCon yet, you better hurry! The early bird rate of $400 goes up to $500 after July 15. Just click here to register. 

Lastly, pick up your boarding pass for the LinuxCon Boston Harbor Cruise onsite at the Activities Desk. This evening event, sponsored by Intel, is from 7-10 p.m. on Wednesday, August 11th. Space is limited, so don't forget to grab that pass for your place on the cruise, which includes food and drink. Can you say "party!?"

 

 

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