The Scylla and Charybdis of Open Source Legalese

Accepted Session
Short form
Scheduled: Wednesday, June 17, 2009 from 11:20am – 12:05pm in Marquam


We exist within invisible frameworks of legal and regulatory schema - even if we're coding in our underwear.


On the one hand, there is the “zealous advocate,” defending the rights of software developers from nasty pirates, or developing models for inextricably locking proprietary layers on top of an OS base. This is your basic lawyer.

On the other, there’s FrieNDA, the way we wish the world would work, with rainbows and ponies and sharing and kisses. It’s not that open source embodies this in any way, but when you expose your soft underbelly for all to see, you can (and should) expect it to occasionally get torn out.

Neither viewpoint is the “right” legal framework for open source work. The lawyers don’t get open source, and developers don’t get the law. Betwixt and between lies a middle path, full of powerful and innovative mechanisms by which the collective knowledge and crowdsourced power of open development could meet, and befriend, some of the traditional protections and rights of ownership.

There are enduring examples, but this talk will not evangelize the sterling efforts of known quantities. Rather, it will attempt to tease out the unknowns, the next useful idea, the place to land. If nothing else, you will walk away with some good ideas for your next collaboration.

Speaking experience