Free software/open source can be seen as a new kind of legal system, allowing rights in code to be shared under rules that promote creative expression, collaborative innovation, and wide dissemination of knowledge. It follows that FOSS will benefit by achieving the features of certainty that all well-functioning property rights systems have. We should know who is giving us rights; we should be reasonably confident that they have the authority to grant those rights; we should know what those rights are; and we should have some confidence that conflicts over rights can be resolved fairly.
My talk will largely accept the premise that FOSS benefits from greater certainty over rights. I will focus on best practices for FOSS projects seeking to improve “code provenance” and licensing certainty, particularly in their reuse of code from other projects. I will draw specifically on my experiences as a lawyer at Red Hat, particularly the work I have done with the Fedora Project. Some of the issues I will discuss include:
My talk will conclude with a broader view by proposing some longer-term solutions for improving certainty in the FOSS legal system. I will briefly discuss three ideas:
Richard Fontana is Red Hat’s Open Source Licensing Counsel. At Red Hat he spends his time advising developers about copyright and patent issues, educating non-developers about free software and open source culture, and promoting open standards and intellectual property legal reform.
Before joining Red Hat, Fontana was an attorney at the Software Freedom Law Center, where his principal client was the Free Software Foundation. He was co-author, with Richard Stallman and Eben Moglen, of the GNU GPL, version 3.
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