January 6, 2005

Site review: Open Source Law Blog

Author: Tina Gasperson

Attorney Paul Arne writes the Open Source Law Blog, designed to make visitors aware of developments in the law and business of open source software. Arne is a rare bird: an attorney who can actually string together a few sentences that don't induce sound sleep in the reader. In fact, Arne has taken some issues regarding the GPL, copyright, and software patents, and made these sometimes complex topics engaging, fun, and easier to understand, all while bringing out important nuances.For example, the current discussion topic is "Copyright Misuse and the GPL." Arne produces a concise but compelling word picture to describe the concept of patent misuse, which leads into U.S. copyright misuse doctrine. What GPL fans might not like is that Arne hints at the conclusion that the GPL is misusing its copyright "rights" in order to force licensees to adhere to certain conditions, an action that seems to point to copyright misuse under prior rulings in the United States.

Another interesting topic is "What does 'any third party' mean in the GPL?" The GPL states that if you distribute modified GPLed software, you must license that software as a whole and at no charge to all third parties. The debate centers on the precise target of that phrase: does "any third party" mean the entire world, or does it mean only those parties who are direct or indirect licensees of the GPLed software? Many businesses interpret the GPL in their favor by maintaining that the second definition is the intended meaning.

Perhaps the most thought-provoking commentary currently posted is "More Microsoft and Patents," posted on November 22. In it, Arne gives readers a glimpse into the mind of corporate lawyers as he lays out a "here's what I would do if I were a Microsoft attorney" with regard to MS's ongoing campaign to discredit Linux and other open source software. Arne says Microsoft might try to influence a third-party technology company to sue an end user for patent infringement, keeping its own hands clean but providing usable grist for the Redmond FUD mill.

Linux and open source zealots and purists will take offense at Arne's approach to the topic. He looks at both sides of the issues and isn't afraid to point out perceived problems and inconsistencies in the GPL and the open source philosophy. It's a refreshing attitude, compared to that of free software fans with blinders on who refuse to honestly debate the merits of their ideologies who see anything that is balanced as biased. It is interesting to note that no full-blown flame wars have erupted, just sparks here and there as Arne skillfully touches nerves.

Arne is a partner in the law firm of Morris, Manning & Martin in Atlanta. He was the managing editor of the Computer Law Association Bulletin and has written many articles on the subject of technology law. Arne also runs the Atlanta Open Source Forum, a live version of the blog, where participants discuss the latest developments in business and legal issues surrounding the use of open source software.


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