Free software center will 'breed' lawyers

The Software Freedom Law Center is looking to take on more client, hire more lawyers and act as a breeding ground for software lawyers around the world.

The chair of the Software Freedom Law Center hopes that his organisation will act as a spawning ground for top legal talent, both in the US and internationally.

Since January, the small team at the center has been juggling running a law practice while building a law firm, according to the center's chair, Eben Moglen. With the center now established in its New York office, Moglen is looking to take on more clients and hire new staff, and he has high hopes for the center's future.

"We're a producer in two things -- legal services and lawyers," Moglen said. "I hope the center will be a breeding ground for people to go out into practices of their own," whether independently or with law firms specialising in software law, he said.

Plans for the center were first announced in January, with its stated mission to provide pro-bono legal services around the globe to nonprofit open-source projects and developers.

So far, the center has eight to nine clients including the Free Software Foundation, X.Org, Plone, and Wine, according to Moglen, a professor of law and legal history at Columbia University Law School and a long-time legal advocate for the free software movement. The center is working on several dozen projects for those clients. "Our work consists primarily of counseling and advising clients, with a little bit of litigation work," he said.

The center worked with IBM, Novell and Red Hat in a case brought against the vendors by Daniel Wallace in Indiana, Moglen said. Wallace alleged the companies had conspired together to fix software prices at zero in a copyright licensing scheme using the GNU General Public License.

Moglen expects the number of clients at the center to double in the next year. The center currently employs two full-time lawyers, but its first junior counsel will join the firm on Aug. 15, and Moglen plans to hire another lawyer in the next few months. He and his team are also recruiting for two more lawyers to join the center after they graduate from law school this year. "Our headcount will go from two to six lawyers in ... the next five to eight months," he said.

At the same time, the center will soon welcome its first international member, German lawyer Axel Metzger, who will be taking up a fellowship with the firm, according to Moglen. Metzger has worked on enforcing the GPL in Germany. Moglen is already looking for other non-US lawyers for future international fellowships and will be particularly reaching out to those studying law at Columbia, he said.

Moglen draws a parallel between what he'd like to achieve with the center and what jazz great Art Blakey achieved with his band, the Jazz Messengers. Blakey established the Messengers as a musical collective with an ever-changing line-up where he nurtured young musicians, and that's what Moglen would like to emulate in turning out young lawyers.

"I'd like the center to be the breeding ground where great software lawyers come from," he said.

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