Legal Issues Associated with Open Source and Free Software Projects

by on February 20, 2008 · 0 comments· LAST UPDATED February 20, 2008

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This is a must read if you or your organization associated with open source software project. If you are interested in a basic understanding of the legal issues that impact FOSS development and distribution, this primer is for you. The guide, written for developers, has sections on copyrights, trademarks, patents, organizational structure and other legal issues:

First, we provide creative, productive hackers insight on how to interact with the legal system—insofar as it affects the projects they work on—with a minimum of cost, fuss and risk. Second, we present a starting point for lawyers and risk managers for thinking about the particular, at times counter-intuitive, logic of software freedom. While these are the primary audiences we intend to reach, we hope others will benefit from this Primer as well, and we have purposefully given it a non-lawyer style of communication (for example, by intentionally omitting dense citation of judicial or other legal authority that is the hallmark of lawyers writing for lawyers).

While FOSS development can raise many legal issues, a few topics predominate in our work; these are the issues most integral to FOSS projects. This Primer provides a baseline of knowledge about those areas of the law, intending to support productive conversations between clients and lawyers about specific legal needs. We aim to improve the conversation between lawyer and client, but not to make it unnecessary, because law, like most things in life, very rarely has clear cut answers. Solutions for legal problems must be crafted in light of the particulars of each client’s situation. What is best for one client in one situation, may very well not be best for another client in the same situation, or even the same client in the same situation at a later date or in a different place. Law cannot yield attainable certainty because it is dynamic, inconsistent, and incapable of mastery by pure rote memorization

Download Primer

The Legal Issues Primer for Open Source and Free Software Projects is available in following formats:

  1. Online HTML version
  2. PDF version [318K]
  3. Postscript version [1.2M]
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