A Practical and Reasonable Approach to Working with Open Source Licenses

LLRX.com is my favorite place to publish my new articles. The newest issue of LLRX.com, in addition to its usual excellent collection of articles, contains a new article from me called “Best Legal Practices for Open Source Software: Ten Tips For Managing Legal Risks for Businesses Using Open Source Software.” I like the description of the article on the site: “Dennis Kennedy’s checklist is a practical evaluation of key factors that will ensure a sound decision making process in the adoption and implementation of open source applications within various legal settings.”
The article grows out of a presentation I’ve given (and would like to give much more often) that introduces the Open Source licenses and then discusses how best to assess and manage the legal risks involved in using Open Source software. I also wanted to write something that was practical – there are plenty of good academic articles on the Open Source licenses. I should know – I’ve written a couple of them, including this law review article a few years ago.
Here’s my variation from the standard legal presentations you might see and hear on this topic: I take the approach that you’ve made the business decision to use Open Source software and that you want to take a realistic approach to handling the legal issues, not that you want to hear from a lawyer a million reasons not to use Open Source software regardless of the business rationale for using it. I also tell the audience how to talk to their lawyers about Open Source, what questions to ask, and how to tell if your lawyer really knows what he or she is talking about when it comes to Open Source. Sometimes it’s better to know more than the lawyers when you go into the meeting.
In any event, I gave the presentation from which this article comes to a group of IT and business people (no other lawyers there) and it was one of the most fun presentations I’ve ever done.
During the presentation, it struck me that, especially in this context, legal risks are just one component of the total risk management picture and, this may be why people say that I don’t sound like all the other lawyers they know, it may not even be the most important component. As I said, there are many ways for lawyers to say “no” to Open Source software – I want to provide a framework where you can say “yes, and here’s how,” if that’s where the business logic and your approach to risk management lead you.
So, the article pulls from a “practical tips” section of that presentation and offers what I hope are some helpful tips to help you make good, solid decisions about when and how to use Open Source software in your business.
At the same time, the presentation and the article helped me think through some of the aspects of what I might call “open source law,” or ways that we can apply Open Source licensing principles to the delivery of legal services. I write about that topic from time to time, but not as much as I’d like to, on the Between Lawyers blog.
Let me recommend my article and this whole issue of LLRX.com to you, especially Donna Cavallini and Sabrina Pacifici’s article on resource for competitive intelligence and John Alber’s important article on ERP and data warehousing (trust me, it’s a must-read). Sabrina has done her usual stellar job with this issue and it’s always a pleasure for me to publish my new articles there. As an aside, I thoroughly enjoyed getting the chance to present with and talk with Sabrina at BlawgThink.
Oh, yeah. The money quote from my article:

If the lawyer only looks at the legal issues and the CIO looks only at the IT issues, you increase the likelihood of finger-pointing when an unexpected, but quite predictable, bad result occurs. No one, especially me, likes the idea of yet another committee meeting, but Open Source is a good example where time and effort spent on the front-end will pay off substantially over the alternative of cleaning up potentially messy and expensive situations in which you may one day find yourself.

[Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (http://www.denniskennedy.com/blog/)]
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Comments

  1. says

    Dennis,
    Greetings! I saw your Aug. 31 post about Open Space Technology and blogs.
    Just so that you know: there are a number of OST blogs out there:
    Chris Corrigan’s Parking Lot: http://chriscorrigan.com/parkinglot
    Wendy Farmer-O’Neil’s: wordgravity.blogspot.com
    Wendy’s team blog on the life practice of OS:
    http://openspacesangha.blogspot.com
    Those three blogs can point you to some other OS blogs.
    Recently, I started my own bilingual (English and Russian) OST/OS blog: talesofatoy.blogspot.com
    Best,
    raffi