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What Can a Lawyer Do For Open Source?

timothy posted more than 3 years ago | from the is-there-a-juris-doctor-in-the-house? dept.

Open Source 162

zolltron writes "I have a friend who went to law school. He really enjoyed intellectual property law, and he seems to genuinely regret that he didn't end up as an IP lawyer. But, what's done is done, and he's not going to radically change career trajectories now. But, I think he might be interested in volunteering a little of his time if there was an interesting project he could get behind. Computer folks are always trying to figure out how to get involved in open source even if it won't be their full time job. So, now I ask you Slashdot, how can my friend use his expertise to help an open source project?"

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162 comments

Software Freedom Law Center (3, Informative)

MrEricSir (398214) | more than 3 years ago | (#34714412)

Perhaps they could use some help?
http://www.softwarefreedom.org/ [softwarefreedom.org]

Re:Software Freedom Law Center (0, Offtopic)

Yvanhoe (564877) | more than 3 years ago | (#34715806)

The Pirate Party needs all the lawyers it can get. National pirate parties have varied quality but at least join the PP-int mailing list (http://lists.pirateweb.net/mailman/listinfo/pp.international.general) legal advices can certainly be appreciated there.

Re:Software Freedom Law Center (5, Insightful)

bigredradio (631970) | more than 3 years ago | (#34716714)

What does the Pirate Party have to do with OpenSource? I am an advocate of OpenSource and CC because it is Free software. I do not agree with Piracy. That is why I use it. The fact that someone does not want to pay for something does not make it Free. That is just being a jackass.

Re:Software Freedom Law Center (3)

commodore64_love (1445365) | more than 3 years ago | (#34717160)

As long as I can walk into a store, buy a DVD or CD, determine "that sucked", and then be denied the right to return that shit for a refund (or credit), I will continue to endorse sharing as a way to "try before you buy" in order to avoid being ripped off.
Hell - even the lowly candybar makers have a refund policy if you don't enjoy their product. Record and movie companies should do the same because the price is ~20 times higher, and therefore that much more painful to the consumer's limited budget.

Re:Software Freedom Law Center (1)

slashqwerty (1099091) | more than 3 years ago | (#34716544)

He can draft proposed laws which could then be submitted to congress. It is no secret that congress does not write its own laws. Instead they take bills drafted by special interests and blindly submit them for a vote. Right now open source doesn't have much of a presence in congress. Your friend could change that by drafting proposed bills that would fix some of the troublesome laws we have.

His field? (2)

eparker05 (1738842) | more than 3 years ago | (#34714452)

It would help to know what field of law he is in.

specifics (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34715044)

A few things can be done simply by being a lawyer at all.
- Recruiting other lawyers, including IP folks, at bar association and other lawyer-only events. Not to mention posting ads in bar association newsletters and hosting events at bar association buildings and finding and encouraging relevant CLE events.

- Writing readily available and current guides to open source for the rest of us, especially the differences between the GPL and other licenses. A good chart of those differences would be golden. Again, especially if kept current AND READILY FINDABLE INLINE. not just in theory, but in case law and in terms of the corporate and institutional moves that could be learned just fine by spending enough time following links from right here on /. and following up on things like Westlaw.
Even not being an IP lawyer, (s)he's still better equipped than most, if only from access to Lexis-Nexis, to build an educated view of what the issues are, for example how companies can use open source and still stay in compliance both with those terms and confidentiality requirements of contractors. Or what code can pass on in commercial products that then use that open source code, etc.

- This isn't open source as such, but there's also a real need for more guides to fair use in general. I've looked high and low and nobody seems to keep a current site about what can and can't legally be photographed, for example. I *do* know that lots of the regulations about taking pictures of private facilities, for example, are bullshit. As in in conflict with the law. But try explaining that without cases and regulation, right down to number, on paper right there when some goon is sent out to grab your camera because you were taking pictures through the chain link fence.
Same for the ever-changing limits of TSA-controlled areas. When a woman can be kept from flying for "unusual contours of the buttocks" and supposedly have no legal recourse, well, looks like we could use some help there to me. Same goes for sampling music or the many related fields. And again, actual case citations and regulations listed by number and category.

Just being able to "presort" is of value, if only to help people in trouble find an IP lawyer who can finish the job. The EFF is great but they ain't everybody, esp. since it can help to have a local lawyer for some things.

- Another possibility is to get involved in helping open-source related organizations get legal standing as non-profits and fund and charter endowments. There are plenty of open source projects that could qualify as non-profits and when I talk to them about it they look vaguely interested but they have neither the skills nor the understanding of how it could help them out to actually get it done. Endowments? Don't get me started. For example, New York's ABC No Rio computer center has hosted many events and teach-ins that help open source and they're always short of help of many kinds. Same for many Free Skools. There are at least fifty infoshops in this country that could do the same IF they were more stable and somebody did the work of getting the right people together in the right place on a repeating basis. Lawyer as yenta is a role that goes back centuries. It's not what people think of as a lawyer's role but it works. Especially since most lawyers can quietly and unobtrusively slip in the twenty bucks now and again that can (absurdly enough) be what stands between a project getting moving and five more fucking meetings over the course of a year to "achieve consensus".

Ya see, a lot of this is about culture. Ask Autumn Wiggins about the work she's doing right now to bring open source tools to the crafting world. Or all of us who simply never took R.M. Stallman as seriously as we could have because, well, he doesn't listen, doesn't move beyond his circles and, at least in my day, didn't bathe. And lawyers are, in their very different way, trained as hackers. As masters of social engineering. Of getting institutions to do what they want through the right line of patter, the right clothes, the right connections.

Well, tell your friend to think that way. To understand better that lawyer and hacker can have a lot in common. The buy the early volumes of Userfriendly, and read them all, at least twice, and learn how to hack the open source world. How to get the people making apps like The GIMP to actually respect designers as professionals, just like them, whose insistence on tools that don't just work (mostly) but are well designed and rock solid, every time are just as valid and worthy of respect as building a sweet bit of code. And maybe, just maybe, use the skills and connections and money that being a lawyer provide to hack the protocols of open source itself.

MOD PARENT UP (0)

jimmyswimmy (749153) | more than 3 years ago | (#34716020)

Never posted one of these before but it is the most insightful comment in the thread and deserves to be seen.

First things first (3, Insightful)

Critical Facilities (850111) | more than 3 years ago | (#34714456)

Well, you say your friend went to law school. However, you don't mention whether or not he passed the Bar Exam and/or if he is currently practicing law. Both of these pieces of information would probably be helpful

Re:First things first (2)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 3 years ago | (#34715820)

Actually, a third piece of information is probably the most helpful - what area of the law is he qualified to practice in?

register copyrights (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34714468)

among other things, the lawyer friend can tell you exactly how to register the copyrights on your software.

Re:register copyrights (2)

reebmmm (939463) | more than 3 years ago | (#34714536)

among other things, the lawyer friend can tell you exactly how to register the copyrights on your software.

As an IP Lawyer, I can tell you that that's not really rocket science. The copyright office gives you pretty much everything you need to know here:
http://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ61.pdf [copyright.gov]

kill all the lawyers (-1, Troll)

MichaelKristopeit335 (1966810) | more than 3 years ago | (#34714474)

help with that

Obviously (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34714490)

He can post here and end his rants with "IAAL".

451 (-1)

Byzantine (85549) | more than 3 years ago | (#34714494)

Well, he could set a fire in the Patent Office.

Re:451 (-1)

MichaelKristopeit344 (1967644) | more than 3 years ago | (#34714708)

or perhaps he could help you with your felony conspiracy case in federal court

Re:451 (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34715234)

Good afternoon, Michael Kristopeit, holder of dozens of /. accounts, consecutively numbered from 300 [slashdot.org] to now 344 [slashdot.org] (and counting). And I see you've already been modded TROLL three [slashdot.org] separate [slashdot.org] times [slashdot.org] already in this story alone.

Re:451 (-1)

MichaelKristopeit349 (1968132) | more than 3 years ago | (#34715324)

you're an ignorant hypocrite.

cower some more, feeb.

you're completely pathetic.

Re:451 (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34715516)

Michael? I think I'll call you Dick instead.

Forming an international, leaderless organization (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34714496)

The project which advocates open source governance [metagovernment.org] has been trying over the years to coalesce into a formal organization, but desperately needs a lawyer to figure out how. A normal non-profit can just put together a board of directors and organize in their home country. But Metagovernment has two huge problems with this: first, they cannot/will-not be controlled by a small group of empowered individuals (completely goes against their core principles), and second they are explicitly not aligned with any nation or national interest. See their page on the issue: http://www.metagovernment.org/wiki/Startup/Organization [metagovernment.org]

No, it is not open source software, but seeing as open source governance is derived from the principles of free and open source software, I thought it may be of interest. Especially since the need for a lawyer here is really profound.

Re:Forming an international, leaderless organizati (1)

bhcompy (1877290) | more than 3 years ago | (#34714704)

Wouldn't the US be open source government since all of the laws, regulations, and charters for government be openly available? That is essentially "the code".

Re:Forming an international, leaderless organizati (4, Insightful)

pjt33 (739471) | more than 3 years ago | (#34714762)

Good luck making a fork.

Re:Forming an international, leaderless organizati (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34714880)

I don't think anyone would mind if you branched the 'code', so long as you don't steal the tools/resources required to compile/execute.

Re:Forming an international, leaderless organizati (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34715072)

I just made a fork of the code right now.
It runs fine, but with only one citizen(me) in the execution environment I can see a lot of rules that never fire.

Perhaps I shouldn't call it an execution environment.

Re:Forming an international, leaderless organizati (1)

badspyro (920162) | more than 3 years ago | (#34717178)

Good luck making a fork.

The US and most of the British commonwealth DID - it's called english common law.

It's a form of law that dates back to when a country separated from English rule, and allows the government to have a base set of laws to build upon, rather than having to make laws up after a potential crime has been committed.

Some countries have not changed a lot of their laws and still fall back on english common law on occasion.

By the way, IANAL, I just like the odd bit of history and law.

Re:Forming an international, leaderless organizati (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34714772)

It is open in that it is readable, but it does not have other characteristics of FOSS: namely, it is pretty darn difficult for a random person with a good idea to contribute code and have it committed to the trunk. Try it some time. :)

Re:Forming an international, leaderless organizati (1)

bhcompy (1877290) | more than 3 years ago | (#34714912)

States that have the initiative/proposition process fit that mold. Still must be approved, but any random joe can write up a bill and submit it as long as it gets enough votes.

Just more restrictive. (1)

dakameleon (1126377) | more than 3 years ago | (#34715598)

It's a high-impact project, so it has some extra controls - to get write access to the repository, you have to be a special class of user called a "Congressman", and all code commits must be approved by a committee called "the Senate", and ultimately the final approval is vested in the super-user known as "the President". The people using your code get to determine if you keep write access every so often.

Re:Just more restrictive. (2)

Teancum (67324) | more than 3 years ago | (#34716514)

This is one reason why I think geeks should get more involved in politics as anybody who can fight through the bureaucracy of a typical open source project to commit code to the main branch of a project more than has the skills to be able to do the same thing to legislation.

If anything, getting legislation changed is much easier because most people are apathetic about what happens in their government and the people who are in charge of writing legislation (or have "write access" as you suggest here) are usually not all that intelligent. The ability to sell yourself to a lobbyist to get a pile of money isn't too difficult but does require some "social networking connections" that unfortunately a typical geek lacks.

The trick is to become the activist that becomes a pain in the behind to the lobbyist, where they might just become interested in what you are doing and support your cause... at least if you can deliver votes. That isn't really social networking but simply staying busy and simply convincing people to show up to the voting booth in the first place.

Re:Forming an international, leaderless organizati (1)

kabrakan (13409) | more than 3 years ago | (#34714874)

My organization (which publishes OSS) is doing the same thing, and is using a law student to help coalesce the group into a formal entity (of which there are many types each with their own pros and cons). I'm sure there are many organizations in the same condition, and having someone do the (arduous) research to formalize the entity will help in procuring grants and other sources of funding that aren't available to informal entities.

Re:Forming an international, leaderless organizati (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34715046)

Would you or that law student be so kind as to post even a brief summary of your findings to the Metagovernment list server [metagovernment.org]. Or if that is too much trouble, perhaps to the relevant page on the wiki [metagovernment.org]. Or failing either of those, maybe here?

Thanks!

Re:Forming an international, leaderless organizati (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34714992)

The project which advocates open source governance [metagovernment.org] has been trying over the years to coalesce into a formal organization, but desperately needs a lawyer to figure out how. A normal non-profit can just put together a board of directors and organize in their home country. But Metagovernment has two huge problems with this: first, they cannot/will-not be controlled by a small group of empowered individuals (completely goes against their core principles), and second they are explicitly not aligned with any nation or national interest. See their page on the issue: http://www.metagovernment.org/wiki/Startup/Organization [metagovernment.org]

No, it is not open source software, but seeing as open source governance is derived from the principles of free and open source software, I thought it may be of interest. Especially since the need for a lawyer here is really profound.

You're looking for "bearer bonds" they are obnoxious because they are taxed every time the change hands, but that's not a huge issue. Im afraid to say your second problem isnt so easy to resolve by any means other than moving the goal posts. The Corporate charter is a government subsidy. It's legitimacy is only as strong as the nation who issued it recognizes it(like fiat currency). You should either proceed as true revolutionaries undetterred by recognition and forget the corporate charter & begin issuing your own crypto signed dgc bearer bonds. Or you should suck it up and go with government corporate charter. Honestly, the project is meaningless without the maturity to do the former imho. You might as well use the proceeds from your IPO to stockpile dgc and bitcoins to back your bonds. In the corporate world, its not the color of your government paper but the size of your warchest which determines the victor. Might makes right, and lawers are the modern day gun slingers. Public relations and jury nulification are cheaper forms of jury tampering than hiring a silver tongue imho.

Volunteer with EFF (3, Insightful)

Joe Snipe (224958) | more than 3 years ago | (#34714530)

I bet they have all sorts of odd research and writing they could use help.

Re:Volunteer with EFF (2, Informative)

Ethanol-fueled (1125189) | more than 3 years ago | (#34714760)

I've volunteered with the EFF doing exactly that.

Some of the research is rigorous and time-consuming, for example, I had to examine a diagram which mandated the use of a bix nood mated to a gollywog. I believe that gig involved a patent-trolling firm called Moon Cricket, which manufactured ultrasonic insect repellant devices.

However, their patent was overly broad and they were going after manufacturers of certain peripherals.

Re:Volunteer with EFF (1)

Sonny Yatsen (603655) | more than 3 years ago | (#34714852)

Hey, Ethanol-fueled, how do I volunteer with the EFF? I only see volunteering options for technologists and general volunteers on their page.

Re:Volunteer with EFF (2, Informative)

Ethanol-fueled (1125189) | more than 3 years ago | (#34714938)

If you have a background in law then you may be able to get an internship. [eff.org]

Also note that the volunteer rules are general guidelines and not all that strict in actuality. The EFF need all the help they can get, so contact Bernie Robinson(brobinson@eff.org) and give him a brief description of your background. They throw great parties after headways are made in cases.

Note that, unfortunately, internships are unpaid and cannot furnish J visas.

Re:Volunteer with EFF (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34717604)

Hmm

Re:Volunteer with EFF (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34715660)

Who the fuck modded this informative? Google the terms "bix nood" "gollywog" and "moon cricket". This is an obvious troll.

Private Practice (1)

applematt84 (1135009) | more than 3 years ago | (#34714592)

One thing that I wish I did was go through law school so I could litigate Internet-based rights. For example, a recent story on /. covered a case that went to trial that was basically about freedom of speech. http://yro.slashdot.org/story/10/12/29/1929228/Court-Rules-Website-Doesnt-Have-To-Remove-Defamatory-Comments [slashdot.org] If I were in your friends' shoes, I would open a private practice and tailor it to the needs of those who need their rights protected online. You should also suggest that your friend checkout the YRO section on /. or even groklaw.net ... these pages should give your friend an idea or two on how to get involved by reading about what's happening.

Re:Private Practice (4, Informative)

vux984 (928602) | more than 3 years ago | (#34714818)

Actually no, that case covered a fairly straightforward legal technicality.

The plaintiff obtained an injunction against an individual independant website-poster and then tried to use it to compel the 3rd party website-host to comply. The website-host argued that the injunction didn't compel him to act because it was against the poster, and the court agreed.

The plaintiff needs to compel the original poster to act (so far the poster has not responded), or seek an injunction against the website host. All the court ruled here was the technical point that they can't use an injunction against party A vs party B.

An analogy would be if the police had a warrant to search your house, but when they got there and didn't find what they were looking they figured you'd moved the object of their search into a storage locker you were renting. You weren't around so they knocked on the storage companies doors asking to search the locker, showing you the warrant. And they turned around and said, "um no, this warrant doesn't have anything to do with us." And the court would agree... suggesting they get an appropriate warrant to actually do what they want to do.

Even if the police have absolute proof that the object they are looking for is in that locker, the warrant they have is the wrong tool to get it. And that's exactly what's happened here. "Free speech" as it turns out is just in the background to the case.

get reeducated (2)

zugedneb (601299) | more than 3 years ago | (#34714618)

as carpenter, railroad worker, builder, engeneer, pilot...

generally, the less we have of people who mind others businness the better we fare...

Re:get reeducated (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34714682)

I work at a law firm (IT support), most of them.... some of... there a few.. there's a couple that ain't half bad.

Re:get reeducated (1)

Aighearach (97333) | more than 3 years ago | (#34716564)

"Look at me, I'm better than you, I can do 5 things poorly!"

Let me guess, you'd prefer a country without Rule of Law, like Somalia?

Or you just don't like the laws, and blame the wrong people?

Or you just want to blame the people that would do good with a law degree, because some other person with one did bad?

Lots of bad carpenters out there, shouldn't blame you for it though. I dunno what an engeneer is though, so I can't if they have bad ones.

If he wants to help (0, Flamebait)

Rosco P. Coltrane (209368) | more than 3 years ago | (#34714652)

tell him to throw himself off a bridge or something. I know he means well, but lawyers are a major part of the problem this litigious society has. Whichever side they're on, in the end they're usually not helping anybody but their own greedy profiteering selves.

Re:If he wants to help (3, Insightful)

soupdevil (587476) | more than 3 years ago | (#34714774)

At its ideal best, the US is a society of ideas, and those ideas are expressed in laws. Previously, societies were based on ethnicity, race, religion or military prowess. In a society of ideas, disputes should not be decided by guns, or by priests. Who else, then? If we got rid of the lawyers we would need to replace them with something quite similar.

Re:If he wants to help (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34715064)

Now it's decided by money and how many politicians/judges/regulators you've bought off. It's really not all that much better.

Re:If he wants to help (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34715012)


The opinions expressed in this thread are solely those of the visitors who posted them, and are not necessarily shared by Slashdot.org, its editors, moderators, or service providers, nor by Geeknet, Inc. (NASDAQ:GKNT), its management, employees, directors, or shareholders. Slashdot is a trademark of Geeknet, Inc.

(This needs help.)

Re:If he wants to help (4, Insightful)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 3 years ago | (#34715110)

tell him to throw himself off a bridge or something. I know he means well, but lawyers are a major part of the problem this litigious society has.

Civil Rights.
Worker Safety.
Environmental Protection.
Food Safety.
Freedom of Speech.
Miranda Warnings.

Fucking lawyers. Always part of the problem.

Re:If he wants to help (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34716022)

Civil Rights.
Worker Safety.
Environmental Protection.
Food Safety.
Freedom of Speech.
Miranda Warnings.

And africanized honey bees make honey too but you wouldn't want them in your neighborhood.

Re:If he wants to help (2)

seebs (15766) | more than 3 years ago | (#34715164)

That is a line of utter bullshit, and I say that even granting that we're already talking about the typical cesspit of Slashdot comments.

The bad guys are gonna have legal representation. If all the good guys decide that being a lawyer is a bad profession, then only the bad guys are gonna have legal representation, making things a lot worse.

You might as well argue that people who want to program should throw themselves off of bridges, on the grounds that it's programmers that make botnets. Your comment that "in the end they're usually not helping anybody but their own greedy profiteering selves" is, to put it mildly, pulled out of your ass. I know some lawyers. One's a good drinking buddy. I know many people who have had lawyers represent them in a number of ways. Of all of those cases, there's exactly one where I'd say that the lawyers were only helping themselves, and if the psycho bitch in question hadn't been psycho, she wouldn't have picked those lawyers.

Generalizing from the sorts of stories that make the news is really, really, stupid. Your view of lawyers is about as informed as Jack Thompson's view of video gamers.

Re:If he wants to help (2)

psxndc (105904) | more than 3 years ago | (#34716166)

As a software-engineer-turned-patent-lawyer, who rarely visits /. anymore because of all the blind lawyer hate and weeping and gnashing of teeth, thank you. Seriously.

Re:If he wants to help (5, Insightful)

seebs (15766) | more than 3 years ago | (#34716668)

No problem. I just get sick of seeing people bashing lawyers without ever having met one.

I know a guy. I refer to him as "my lawyer". He helped me take a bunch of junk faxers to court, as a result of which, I was able to give about $50k or so to random poor people I knew -- you know, stuff like that one month's rent that makes the difference between staying in your place until your new job starts paying or being out on the street and jobless. I've watched him put in insanely long hours helping poor people get the help they need to get away from scumbag debt collectors, advising trannies on how to get their name changes, stuff like that. I've seen him walk away from large amounts of money if he didn't think the job was ethical. And I've seen the six foot Clash poster in his office.

I also know someone who did Family Practice, which is the most nightmarish job in the world. Hello, welcome to a fight between people who were married for ten years. You are the only person in this room who gives a flying fuck what happens to this kid. Your job is to, without actually telling your client to grow the fuck up, cause your client to stop and think whether she actually wants the kids, or just wants to hurt her soon-to-be ex-husband.

It's like mechanics, really. Yeah, everyone's had a run-in with some guy who will just make shit up to charge you hundreds of bucks. But most of us have eventually found the guy who'll fix stuff for free if he can just reach in and do it, spend two hours on the phone tracking down a replacement part that's no longer made, and tell you "you'll need to replace these, but you've got another six months, easy." Blaming all mechanics for the stereotyped bad ones is just sloppy thinking.

It bugs me to see people who think they're super smart and all good with logic and reasoning, and then the moment you hand 'em a stereotype they just run with it. WTF guys.

open street map (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34714734)

The open street map project is currently planning to change their license from the established CC-by-SA (GPL-like), to something new and untested called the ODbL (LGPL-like).

IANAL but I play one on the internet and I've read the thing, and both it and the new contributer agreement are a mess. A terrible mess. Apparently it's been looked at by a real lawyer, but I still see much sloppiness which translates to loop holes many an evil company could drive trucks through.

Task: review the two documents pro-bono and post analysis & suggestions for improvement to the osm-talk list before it's too late! Time is short and I'd hate to see a good project destroy itself.

I do various bits and pieces (5, Informative)

Neil_Brown (1568845) | more than 3 years ago | (#34714736)

There are a number of us who happily chip into gpl-violations.org - hopefully, it sometimes leads to resolutions of GPL-based legal issues, but fascinating for discussion too.

Education: I enjoy talking / lecturing about issues related to open source / Free software, problems I perceive with copyright, issues around the commons and the public domain etc. - education activities, helping both lawyers and interested members of the general public. I also like writing about open source topics, from a legal point of view - dispelling FUD, or highlighting areas of actual risk, can be beneficial. Even contributing to your local LUG might be helpful.

Contributing to project documentation - perhaps not strictly legal-related, but, as a lawyer, I hope I can communicate clearly. Since documentation is often considered secondary to code in open source projects, yet is important, I felt I could contribute.

Pro bono work - very occasionally, a pro bono project comes up which needs open source advice, and I'll happily take on those. If you have a local pro bono centre, which has a wider remit than housing / family / private client issues, then, you might be able to register there and offer guidance. I would not hold out any hope of it being a regular source of projects, but perhaps worth a try.

help groklaw (3, Informative)

mrflash818 (226638) | more than 3 years ago | (#34714786)

I am sure PJ would appreciate the help.

Re:help groklaw (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34714944)

I second that. :)

Re:help groklaw (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34715210)

Reading through the archives at groklaw should give him some ideas about what help is needed in the oss world. In fact, here is a recent post that is right on topic:

http://www.groklaw.net/article.php?story=20101228003140376

Volunteer (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34714868)

Your friend, if he's really interested, could contact the FSF or EFF or OSI and offer his services. I'm sure such groups could always use an extra lawyer.

One thing only (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34715002)

Kill himself

Odd (1)

ZonkerWilliam (953437) | more than 3 years ago | (#34715056)

Shouldn't a lawyer already have the resources to find any area of law he want to practice in? Like most professionals those guys should have good network of people. Why sink to asking people who typically aren't in the area of law?

Re:Odd (1)

seebs (15766) | more than 3 years ago | (#34715206)

Most professionals don't start out with a good network of people. Looking for ideas that other people have is as good a way as any to start, and possibly a better one if you want to think outside the box a bit.

Re:Odd (1)

ZonkerWilliam (953437) | more than 3 years ago | (#34716580)

Most professionals don't start out with a good network of people.

I would beg to differ, when I graduated EE I had already had an established network, mostly people who were working in the field.

Re:Odd (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34715224)

IAAL and sometimes it's not readily apparent in non-traditional legal fields exactly 'what' needs legal help.

Pursue GPL violations in China (1)

lkcl (517947) | more than 3 years ago | (#34715134)

There is one area where prosecuting GPL violations is, at present, completely ineffective, and it's across the non-PRC / PRC international barrier. As I understand it, the rules are that it is necessary to either be a Chinese National or have a Chinese Company in order to prosecute Copyright Violation. However, i have heard that there is a Law Firm in Bristol who manage to successfully prosecute Copyright and other violations in China.

It would be extremely useful for someone to help the Software Freedom Law Centre to be able to successfully pursue GPL Copyright Violations against Chinese Factories. Not least is, as Neil mentions, the fact that it would simply be useful to help out AT ALL with the sheer overwhelming number of GPL violations cases. The busybox Copyright holders alone have a list which as of last month was well over 300 separate cases which they have to actively double-check and then pursue.

Re:Pursue GPL violations in China (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34715354)

If you didn't register the copyright in China, good luck prosecuting it. Same deal with Patents...

Help a LII (1)

grcumb (781340) | more than 3 years ago | (#34715176)

There are dozens of organisations around the world who use the Internet to ensure Free Access to Law (Google '+LII +"Montreal Declaration"' for more about the movement). Many of these Legal Information Institutes require the assistance of legal experts in selecting, vetting and editing their online materials. There are new ones starting up right now in Western Africa, for example.

Access to online legal materials is a fundamentally important way to ensure rule of law and to help level the playing field between the state, established interests and the little guy. In my region, it's been extremely effective in helping people to understand the ways the laws are written (i.e. the way things should be) and to compare them to the way things actually are. It's not a panacea, but it's a pretty important tool in helping people protect their rights, both online and in meatspace.

If your friend is interested, have him contact the Cornell School of Law for details. Alternatively, he can contact me through my website.

Free Software, please (1)

lkcl (517947) | more than 3 years ago | (#34715198)

sorry i didn't notice that the question was "what can i do for open source" and the first thing your friend can do is read rms essays on why that should be "free software" (more accurately "software libre" in french). the difference really does matter: anyone - even microsoft - can claim that "access to source code is open" (for $USD 1m, and if you use it in any projects or products, then they will sue the f88* out of you. but it's STILL an "open source" license, because the source code is "open", right?)

Re:Free Software, please (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34715574)

Yes, the first thing you should do is completely turn his friend off by having to be brow-beaten by a zealot.

Help RunwayFinder (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34715286)

He can volunteer to help RunwayFinder.com

This was a great flight-planning tool, until patent-troll FlightPrep threatened to sue for over $3M. The allegedly infringed-upon patent? -- linking maps together (yes, like Google maps).

RunwayFinder's owner has considered open-sourcing his site, but now he has other more important things on his mind...(like not losing everything he owns to this lawsuit....)

Odds and ends (1)

phorm (591458) | more than 3 years ago | (#34715404)

Wow. What projects couldn't use a lawyer. Liability, patents, license (GPL etc) violations, legal documentation, etc etc.

I could think of plenty of FOSS that probably could use a bit of legal assistance. Heck, how about offering a cheap legal advice session - or maybe a free seminar - every now and then, for up-and-coming programmers on FOSS projects?

Electronic Frontier Foundation (1)

spazdor (902907) | more than 3 years ago | (#34715450)

The EFF provides all sorts of legal services to deserving projects. I thing volunteering tor them would be a fantastic use of time.

GPL Patents (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34715522)

Create viral a form to make a patent viral, like GPL.
Your company uses the patent, then your patents cant be enforced against free (or any) software.

How about open business contracts (3, Interesting)

holophrastic (221104) | more than 3 years ago | (#34715526)

As a programmer/developer, I'm used to libraries of code and snippets, and cross-integrating and documentation. But when it comes time for me to write contracts for projects with clients and such, I get to start from scratch, every time. GPL and the like exist for code use, but that's not business related.

I've always wanted the equivalent of GPL for business. Where I can have a contract between my business and my client that also has a 3 to 5 character letterism common enough to be familiar to non-computer-oriented clients. It would really solve the whole negotiating a contract challenge of any large project.

I imagine a set for each industry (software, grocery, marketing, etc), a subset for each type of project (software, service, product, etc), a subset for each bias (favouring the client, favouring the provider, mutually neutral, etc), a few peripheral features (royalties, bonuses, minimums, etc), et cetera.

It's not open-source-computer-code, it's open-source-legal-contracts.

The big advantage being that parties using such contracts don't need to read everything thoroughly for eight weeks with their lawyers, because those lawyers would quickly become familiar with these things, and these things would be backed by the international association for open legal contracts -- or perhaps one with a more legible letterism.

Re:How about open business contracts (3, Interesting)

ZekeV (1968214) | more than 3 years ago | (#34717562)

Sounds a lot like a project I'm currently developing with a group of lawyers -- a curated contract forms library based on open source principles. https://sites.google.com/site/opensourcelawproject/ [google.com] We could definitely use additional input from people with a hacker's perspective.

Re:How about open business contracts (1)

holophrastic (221104) | more than 3 years ago | (#34717638)

I'd love to assist, but I'm not able to access google services.

Is there another way for me to contribute?

I got an idea for your lawyer friend (1)

swschrad (312009) | more than 3 years ago | (#34716266)

sic Ellison of Oracle and Darl McBride of Hell on each other.

open source, and mankind, can only benefit with those two alleycats tied tail to tail and tossed over a high-tension power line, to shred each other.

Ethically unacceptable; so sue me already (1)

strangedays (129383) | more than 3 years ago | (#34716366)

I have a friend who was all set to become an IP lawyer, but then they found out her parents were married.
I was shopping in New York last week, it was so cold I saw a lawyer with her hands in her own pockets.

Free Software Foundation (2)

gratuitous_arp (1650741) | more than 3 years ago | (#34716552)

The Free Software Foundation can use lawyers to help answer questions from non-lawyers about the General Public License (GPL). The GPL is one of the most widely used free/open software licenses. See here for more information: http://www.fsf.org/volunteer [fsf.org]

The relevant snippet from the web site:

Are you a law geek?

* Be a Licensing Volunteer. Help us answer the many questions we receive every day at the FSF regarding the use and abuse of free software licenses. If you are interested, write to licensing@fsf.org and tell us a bit about your background, both legal and with the free software community, if you are interested. Please also run through the GPL quiz and let us know how you do.

As an aside, if you are *neither* a lawyer nor a programmer and you're still interested in supporting open source projects, there are lots of ways to get involved. This includes those with an interest in art, linguistics, writing, testing, organizing/assisting at public functions, etc. Tons of very different approaches. Check out the link above for more info.

Use Open Source. Kick some money in. Endorse it. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34717192)

Brand me as a troll, but lawyers have no business in the computer industry. Stop posting legal articles. Stop posting lawyer articles. We are hackers. We laugh at silly rules. And the self important fools that make them. As if chanting magic words puts back to shovel and gets the manure out of the barn.

It would be more useful it lawyers stood for free speech and my rights once in a while.

Lawyers against TSA. Lawyers against a police state. Lawyer for smokers. Lawyers for the right to smoke and drink in a bar.

Lawyers to investigate the mortgage crisis. Lawyers to take down the zombie banks.

Lawyers against off shoring. Lawyers against Trillion Dollar wars.

Lawyers for Freedom. Lawyers for Human RIghts.

Lawyers that SPONTANEOUSLY give something back to the community,

Lawyers against executive orders. Lawyers for the Constitution.

Lawyers that investigated some rotten evil doers in high places, put the hurt on some high crimes.

Like where the missing billions went in Iraq.

Lawyers that look out for the little people, not just their masters with the megadollars.

When you lawyers got all that cleaned up, then we can talk about software.

Until then, us open sources, us computer nerds, us hackers great and small will continue to do fine all by ourselves.

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