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Just a reminder, these posts are not legal advice. This site is the personal blog of Mark Radcliffe and the opinions expressed are those of Mark Radcliffe and not those of his clients, DLA Piper or the clients of DLA Piper.

About Me:

Mark Radcliffe

I have been practicing law in Silicon Valley for over thirty years assisting startups and global companies develop and market innovative products and services. I have participated in multiple business cyles in Silicon Valley from hardware to software to internet to cloud. My projects have included developing the dual licensing business model for open source startup, developing the original domain dispute resolution policy for NSI and assisting Sun in open sourcing the Solaris operating system. Recently, I served on the US Japan Innovation and Entrepreneurship Council (one of ten members) to develop a plan to encourage the innovation in Japan and the United States. I have been working with the same attorneys since 1986 although we have merged with other law firms several times. I am now a partner at DLA Piper, a (relatively) new global law firm formed in 2005 from the merger of three law firms. The firm now has 4200 lawyers in 31 countries and 77 cities. My experience in corporate securities (particularly venture capital) and intellectual property enables me to assist companies structure the financing and intellectual property strategy for developing ane exploiting a new product or service. I and my team work with fifty startups at one time as well as Global Fortune 100. I have been fortunate enough to work with companies in software, cloud computing, semiconductor, health care IT and Web 2.0.

One disturbing trend is the posting of FOSS modules without licenses. Simon Phipps focused on this problem in his recent blog, particularly on the problems raised by the terms of service at Github. James Governor, the founder of analyst Red Monk, is quoted by Simon as stating: “”younger devs today are about POSS - Post open source software. f*** the license and governance, just commit to github” http://www.infoworld.com/d/open-source-software/github-needs-take-open-source-seriously-208046. Ironically, this approach will undercut the major desire of most FOSS developers: the broad use of their code. The lack of a license ensures that the software will be removed from any product meant to be used by corporations. Corporations are very sensitive about ensuring that all software that they use or which is incorporated in their products is properly licensed. I have worked on hundreds of FOSS analysis and the response to software without a clear license is almost always “rip it out”.
One other consequence not mentioned by Simon is that the failure to include a license also means the developer (and distributor) have potential liability in the United States under Article II of the Uniform Commercial Code (“UCC”). Article II of the UCC provides that if certain warranties are not “disclaimed” then the distributor (“seller” in UCC language) automatically gives those warranties. These warranties are disclaimed in all FOSS licenses, generally in capital letters and are the source of the provisions using obscure terms such as “merchantability” and “fitness for a particular purpose”. The developer would be liable for these warranties: merchantability (the product is of average quality in the trade), fit for a particular purpose (if the developer or distributor knows of the use by the licensee, then the software will be fit for such purpose) and indemnity (an indemnity for intellectual property infringement such as copyrights and patents). And if such warranties are breached the developer would be liable for “consequential damages” which includes lost profits. While it is unlikely that such suit would be brought, the potential liability for the developer will continue.

1 Comment

  1. [...] Unlicensed FOSS: Major Mistake for Developers One disturbing trend is the posting of FOSS modules without licenses. Simon Phipps focused on this problem in his recent blog, particularly on the problems raised by the terms of service at Github. James Governor, the founder of analyst Red Monk, is quoted by Simon as stating: “”younger devs today are about POSS – Post open source software. f*** the license and governance, just commit to github” http://www.infoworld.com/d/open-source-software/github-needs-take-open-source-seriously-208046. Ironically, this approach will undercut the major desire of most FOSS developers: the broad use of their code. The lack of a license ensures that the software will be removed from any product meant to be used by corporations. Corporations are very sensitive about ensuring that all software that they use or which is incorporated in their products is properly licensed. I have worked on hundreds of FOSS analysis and the response to software without a clear license is almost always “rip it out”. [...]

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