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March 30, 2006

Zak Greant: Copyright, Contracts and Licenses (and more)

Second session of the morning at PHP Quebec is Zak Greant talking about copyright and software licensing. Not going to attempt to document the whole presentation but will note key ideas.

Zak starts by saying that before listening to anyone on copyright or licensing you should know who is giving the advice. Zak works for eZ systems and the Mozilla Foundation. This presentation is not legal advice, Zak is not a lawyer.

In general you must be diligent about copyright, licenses and contracts. Take the time to review contracts and licenses in detail, get legal advise.

Copyright protects expression, not ideas. It's possible to create a work having seen another and have the ideas reflected in the new work the same but the expressioni different and be ok under copyright law. Getting a copyright doesn't require any work, it happens when the work is created. For further protection a person can go through a process to file a copyright which is free in most countries (US charges a small fee).

Fair use allows you to quote a copyrighted work in limited amounts and parody existing works. Correlates closely to political freedom.

Zak says the fundamental reason for copyright is to create an environment to encourage people to create (or close to that idea). Interesting idea, I'd like to hear what Larry Lessig has to say about that.

Software often is licensed, not sold. You enter into a contract saying you won't sell it, won't make modifications etc. Companies are trying to limit what you can do with purchased software. It's still not clear if this is a legal way to distribute software.

Zak mentions ChillingEffects.org as an interesting site to look at to find records of cease and desist letters from fanatic lawyers.

In general, patents do not help software. They no longer help innovation.

Every time we install a piece of software we are entering into a contract. The key thing with contracts is "did you or did you not agree to the contract." Just because you didn't read and sign doesn't mean you didn't agree.

Always read contracts that are personal (mention your name). Read it several times. Then find a lawyer who knows the area and read it with them. Lawyers who aren't in their area of expertise may give you bad advice.

Licenses (a quick look)

GPL requires distribution of the source code and the entire bundle if you make changes and ship them. So if you make any derivitives and use them along with the GPL licensed software you have to ship it all. If you develop something that stands alone but also works with GPL software you can ship separately, but if you ship with any of the GPL software you have to ship all of the GPL software. If you don't ship software that you odify you don't have to contractually distrubute anything you make.

If I build a service on top of GPL code but I don't ship the code, just provide a service using it do I have to provide the source code? The answer is no.

General advice, don't piss off large organizations. If you get sued, even if you are in full compliance, you will spend tens of thousands of dollars proving it. Fight for your rights before entering into contracts.

Make a carvout on your contract that things you want to be yours is specified as yours (or more specifically not the company's).

Keep a list of all of your agreements, how long they last etc.

Zak says the slides will be up on his site later.

Posted by mike at March 30, 2006 11:07 AM