Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Keep out the lawyers

Free software, open source software and creative commons are all efforts to use copyright law to enforce a particular philosophy of collaborative innovation.( In many cases, the philosophy is more important than the technology, as Jason Dedrick & I discussed in a 2007 paper on the minimal impact that F/OSS ideology have upon F/OSS adoption.)

At the same time, possession (as they say) is 9/10 of the law. Proprietary software was a barrier to imitation because of trade secrets, not copyright. Inherently, giving out your source code means that other people have it and that you need a lawyer (and a court) if someone uses your code in a way you don’t want them to.

A friend (and blog reader) forwarded to me an interesting summary of an OSS dispute involving Jin (a GPL-licensed Java client for chess servers) and iChessU, a new company.

Sasha Maryanovsky, maker of Jin licensed his code for US $4,000. iChessU used the code but reneged on papying so Maryanovsky sued in Israeli court. Both sides hired lawyers, filed briefs, and also argued the case in the court of public opinion. (Linux.com wrote up the dispute in 2006).

Maryanovsky summarizes the saga in his blog, which eventually settled in 2008. I don’t know the billing rate of an Israeli IP attorney, I’m guessing that both sides would be lucky if they paid less than $100k to their attorneys. (The settlement terms are confidential, but if the case against iChessU is as open and shut as GPLniks would claim, it’s likely that it paid both sets of legal fees.

Interestingly, Maryanovsky’s home page (and LinkedIn account) imply that he’s an unemployed Java programmer. Open source is often used by student programmers to signal their skills and availability to the labor market, so either the Java programmers labor market is very soft, or Maryanovsky sent the wrong signal. (Perhaps a JME/J2ME social networking client would have been a better signal).

No comments: