OSDL members fund open-source law center

Open Source Development Labs (OSDL) has raised US$4.25 million to fund a new organization that will provide free legal services to open-source developers. The organization, called the Software Freedom Law Center, is expected to eventually employ as many as 15 full-time lawyers.

OSDL, a consortium dedicated to Linux development that is based in Beaverton, Oregon, and employs Linux creator Linus Torvalds, has been quietly raising money for the center from amongst its members since September 2004. Based in New York, the law center will be run by Eben Moglen, a professor of law at Columbia University Law School, and will initially employ two full-time attorneys, a chief technical officer, and administrative staff.

"The goal of this center is to provide best-of-breed world class legal advice to free and open source software projects," said Moglen. The center will not represent commercial vendors and will initially count the Free Software Foundation and the open-source Samba project among its clients, Moglen said. More clients are expected to be added in the near term, he said.

Moglen hopes to soon raise a total of US$5 million, which will fund the organization for its first two years. Plans call for the center to have funding for a staff of 15 full-time lawyers within five years, he added.

Legal opinions have become an increasingly important part of open source software development since The SCO Group Inc. (SCO) launched its multi-billion dollar lawsuit against IBM last year, claiming that Big Blue had illegally contributed code to Linux. SCO had initially threatened to sue Linux users in connection with these claims, but has since scaled back its legal ambitions.

One project that will not be involved in the Software Freedom Law Center is the Linux kernel project, which is led by Torvalds.

Last year, OSDL created a $10 million legal defense fund to defend Linux users and developers against lawsuits that SCO might file against them. That program will remain as a source of legal defense resources for the kernel project, according to an OSDL spokesman.

Moglen declined to name the companies that contributed to the law center, but said that "no one firm represents a dominant share of the funding."

OSDL counts Intel, IBM, and Hewlett-Packard amongst its more than 60 members.

The law center's web page can be found at: http://www.softwarefreedom.org

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