The US Internal Revenue Service has ushered in a new and much more favorable treatment for free software projects seeking to have 501c3 tax exempt non-profit organizations of their own. After years of suffering from a specially prejudicial environment at IRS, free software projects—particularly new projects starting out and seeking organizational identity and the ability to solicit and receive tax-deductible contributions for the first time—can now do so much more easily, and with confident expectation of fast, favorable review. For lawyers and others counseling free software projects, this is without question “game-changing.”
On 21-23 June 2016, Ministers and stakeholders gathered in Cancún, Mexico, for an OECD Ministerial Meeting on the Digital Economy: Innovation, Growth and Social Prosperity, to move the digital agenda forward in four key policy areas foundational to the growth of the digital economy. Our Legal Director, Mishi Choudhary represented the United States civil society at the OECD Ministerial Panel on The Economic and Social Benefits of Internet Openness, chaired by the Canadian Minister of Innovation, Science, and Economic Development Hon’ble Navdeep Singh Bains.
There has been much recent controversy concerning the relationship between the Linux Foundation and “community,” or non-commercial organizations in the world of free software. I’ve been somewhat confused by the dynamics of that conversation, which has spilled out from private mailing lists into the public eye occasionally, and I have found it useful in clarifying my own views to state my thoughts on the subject, which I’ve now decided to share.
Questions have arisen about the possible effect of Article 14.17 of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. SFLC’s analysis shows that Article 14.17 has no adverse effects on free software licensing, distribution, or government acquisition.
There has been a growing interest among Free and Open Source Software (“FOSS”) projects in the use of crypto-currencies such as Bitcoin and its myriad derivatives (hereinafter “Bitcoin”). However, uncertainty over the treatment of these currencies by US law has dissuaded developers from from using Bitcoin. This post provides some general guidance on the legal consequences of using such convertible virtual currency.
We’ve been watching with great interest this week as the travails of FOSS organizations with the US Internal Revenue Service have become a hot topic. When our client, Jim Nelson of Yorba, discussed blogging about the IRS rejection of Yorba’s application for 501c3 status with us, we hoped but did not expect that the situation, to which we had discreetly called community and company attention for years, would finally receive some. We’re very glad that’s now happening. Unfortunately, it’s really too late. Because of the long delays in determination imposed by the IRS in its increasingly anti-FOSS positioning, neither the full consequences of the IRS’s present position nor the state of our legal technology in response can be seen from the materials currently under discussion.
In each Supreme Court brief that SFLC has filed over the years we have included a little note on the first page declaring that the brief was made using only free software. This point was particularly important in our most recent brief, for a case named Alice Corporation v. CLS Bank, which was argued in front of the court last week. Our use of free software was particularly important this time because we argue in our brief that free software has been responsible for the major software innovations of the modern era. In partial support of that claim I want to show you our document creation process and tell you about the free software we use to take text from an email and turn it into a camera-ready Supreme Court brief, then a website, then an eBook.
Google recently disclosed a draft cross-license under which patents related to the VP8 video compression format—held by Google, MPEG-LA, and several other companies—would be licensed to the general public. SFLC reviewed these terms and considered some criticisms that have arisen in the free software community.
Free and open source software projects live on the web—even projects that don’t build web applications use software repositories, forums, social networks, project management software, and other online tools to engage developers. But with user engagement comes a certain amount of risk: if a user posts copyright-infringing content to a project’s site, the project could find itself threatened with a lawsuit for hosting the content. A compliant DMCA policy gives the project a ready defense to claims related to user activity. Without one, even a bogus claim could cost the project significantly more time and legal expense.