FSF Seminar: GPL Compliance Case Studies and Legal Ethics in Free Software Licensing

Columbia Law School, Columbia University
New York, NY
January 21, 2004 (9:00 am - 6:00 pm)

This one-day course presents the details of five different GPL compliance cases handled by FSF's GPL Compliance Laboratory. Each case offers unique insights into problems that can arise when the terms of GPL are not properly followed, and how diplomatic negotiation between the violator and the copyright holder can yield positive results for both parties.

This course also includes a unit on the ethical considerations for attorneys who want to represent clients that make use of or sell Free Software products.


Attendees should have successfully completed the course, a Detailed Study and Analysis of GPL and LGPL, as the material from that course forms the building blocks for this material, or have attended a previous Free Software Licensing and the GNU GPL Seminar.


The course is of most interest to lawyers who have clients or employers that deal with Free Software on a regular basis. However, technical managers and executives whose businesses use or distribute Free Software will also find the course very helpful.

The course will include the topics listed below, along with ample time for questions and discussions.

Lunchtime Speaker

Eben Moglen will be the lunchtime speaker. Professor Moglen is Professor of Law and Legal History at Columbia Law School and one of the nation's foremost scholars on copyright, patents and the proposed “Broadcast Flag.” He is also a member of FSF's Board of Directors and the foundation's General Counsel. Professor Moglen has also written extensively on the SCO vs IBM lawsuit.

GPL Compliance Case Studies

Overview of FSF's GPL Compliance Lab

We present a brief introduction to the work that FSF does to enforce the GPL and defend the freedoms granted by Free Software.

GPL Violation Case Study A

In this case study, we consider one of the most complex and longest-running violations that FSF has handled. Company A distributed a derivative work of the GNU Complier Collection (GCC) without complete corresponding source, and refused to distribute any source at all to anyone who was not their direct customer. We follow the slow movement toward compliance and explain how FSF deals with sometimes belligerent violators.

GPL Violation Case Study B

In this case study, we consider a contrasting violation to Case A. Company B, who sold a complete GNU/Linux distribution, had worked hard to be in compliance, but we had nevertheless found an infraction in their compliance efforts. We explain how smoothly violations of this type can be resolved and the process that an otherwise friendly violator can expect.

GPL Violation Case Study C

In this case study, we present a violation where an entire embedded GNU/Linux distribution was included in a consumer electronic device. We consider the problems faced regarding kernel modules for device drivers for government-regulated hardware, and cases where both an upstream provider and a downstream distributor are in violation on separate matters.

GPL Violation Case Study D

In this case study, we consider how to handle the inevitable violations that can occur from a company that is generally committed to doing Free Software as a regular part of its business, but — due to experimentation with new cutting edge business models, or because of mere oversights — has occasional GPL violations or near-violations.

Good Practices for GPL Compliance

After discussing the details of the various archetypes of GPL compliance efforts undertaken by FSF, we generalize what we have learned to advise on good practices to build a product from start to finish in compliance with GPL, and how to build internal policies to assure that your client or company is never faced with a violation report.

Ethical Considerations for the Attorney Practicing Free Software

This portion of the course will focus on ethical issues that may arise for attorneys counseling clients with respect to free software issues. Many of these topics have more general application, but specific discussion of the ways in which these issues may arise for free software clients will be presented.

Part I: Representing Free Software Clients

An attorney's ethical duties run to not just their clients, but to potential clients and the general public as well. Pro bono representation of free software clients not only conforms with the principles set forth by most Bar Associations, but also provides many other benefits to an attorney. Once a client is retained, the duty of loyalty attaches and conflicts, be they direct, indirect, or political, should be identified and handled.

Part II: Practicing Free Software

Differing ethical issues arise in the context of counseling a client who is a free software licensor as opposed to one who is a free software licensee. Further still, representing a client who is both licensor and licensee presents a combination of all of these issues. Compliance investigation and enforcement strategies must be implemented in accordance with both the duty of loyalty and the duty of honesty. Likewise, performing exposure abatement while also defending against charges of infringement may pose problems within the attorney-client relationship. The ethical considerations relevant to each of these situations will be presented and discussed.

Part III: More General Ethical Considerations Relevant to Free Software

Free software counseling is but one specialty within the realm of intellectual property counseling in general. A review of various topics of more general application, but with special relevance to free software counseling, will be given along with a discussion of the reasons why and ways in which such issues arise when representing free software clients. Patent prosecution and governing rules considerations are two such topics.

Pricing (Book by December 24, 2003 for early registration discount)

$495 for registrations on or before December 24, 2003 and $595 after December 24

Financial Aid Policy: Applicants with annual incomes of up to $15,000 are entitled to a 75% discount. People with incomes between $15,000 and $30,000 receive a 50% discount. Any member of the judiciary, academics or attorneys from non-profit organizations receive a 10% discount. If you fall within one of these categories, please contact John at <johns@fsf.org> or Ravi at <ravi@fsf.org> or by phone at 617.620.9640.

CLE Credits: Attorneys who successfully complete the day long course will be entitled to a total of 7.5 New York Transitional CLE credits, 3 in the area of Professional Practice and 4.5 toward the Ethics and Professionalism requirements.

Companies that have signed up as Corporate Patrons of FSF receive two complimentary seats per year at FSF seminars and reduced rates for additional participants. Please contact <patron@fsf.org> for more details. You can find out more about the Corporate Patron Program at www.fsf.org/patrons/.

The seminar will be held at Columbia Law School in New York. Directions will be sent following registration. For more information, please contact Ravi Khanna, FSF's Director of Communication at <ravi@fsf.org> or by calling 1+617-620-9640.