Legal Basics for Developers

Location: E146
Average rating: ****.
(4.00, 6 ratings)

As a free/open source software project grows from idea to running code to stable release, its developers will inevitably be confronted with a number of legal issues. Some of these issues, like copyright licensing, are widely understood. Others, like the trademark implications of selecting a project name, are commonly overlooked. In this session, two lawyers for the Software Freedom Law Center will explain the basic legal concepts that confront a project over its lifecycle.

Topics will include:

  • Copyrights: choosing and applying a license, understanding contributor policies, and dealing with license interactions and compatibility issues.
  • Trademarks: selecting a project name, drafting an acceptable use policy, and minding the rights of others.
  • Patents: understanding patents and protecting your project from aggressive patent holders.
  • Incorporation: limiting developers’ liability, understanding fiscal sponsorship, and deciding whether to form a nonprofit.
Photo of Aaron Williamson

Aaron Williamson

Tor Ekeland P.C.

Aaron Williamson is an attorney at the New York firm Tor Ekeland, P.C., where he counsels technology startups and other companies on issues related to free and open source software, privacy and surveillance, regulatory compliance, and more. Previously, he served as in-house counsel at IEEE and as a staff attorney at the Software Freedom Law Center, where he advised community free and open source software projects.

Photo of Karen Sandler

Karen Sandler

GNOME Foundation

Karen M. Sandler is the Executive Director of the GNOME Foundation. Prior to joining GNOME, she was General Counsel of the Software Freedom Law Center. Karen continues to do pro bono legal work with SFLC and serves as an officer of both the Software Freedom Conservancy and SFLC. Before joining SFLC, she worked as an associate in the corporate departments of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP in New York and Clifford Chance in New York and London. Karen received her law degree from Columbia Law School in 2000, where she was a James Kent Scholar and co-founder of the Columbia Science and Technology Law Review. Karen received her bachelor’s degree in engineering from The Cooper Union.

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Picture of Aaron Williamson
Aaron Williamson
07/29/2011 2:18am PDT

Hi Hans! You are absolutely right about the font… we didn’t catch the eye-bleedyness till just before the talk, when it was too late to fix. Hurray for terrible defaults! Anyway, as a Kern, you’re clearly an expert on kerning, so your input is valuable.

As for answers in written form, that was more for lack of prep time than a result of lawyer issue-dodging. A lot of what we talked about is available in writing in our Legal Primer on our website:

Thanks for coming! And for your honesty.

Hans M. Kern
07/28/2011 8:10am PDT

Good talk, great discussions, sadly (or typical for lawyers) no answers in written form.

Eye bleeding font kerning on the slides - lookeda bit like a kid with potato stamps was responsible to get the letters on the slides :)