SFLC Blog[RSS]

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.

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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.

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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.

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Twin Peaks Software, Inc., which makes proprietary data replication and cloud storage software, sued Red Hat and its subsidiary Gluster for patent infringement back in February. Last week, Red Hat filed a counterclaim in that litigation, alleging copyright infringement by Twin Peaks in misappropriating GPL'd software. Today SFLC begins an investigation of Twin Peaks' products, to ascertain whether any of our clients' rights are being infringed through the violation of FOSS licenses.

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In yesterday's New York Times, Ellen Ullman argued that we need artificial intelligence, not more testing, to prevent high-volume trading catastrophes like the one at Knight Capital. But artificially intelligent market watchers are an expensive and possibly unworkable solution. Instead, by collaborating on an open infrastructure for high-volume algorithmic trading, firms could reduce errors, improve stability, and possibly avoid expensive regulation.

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In his keynote from the 28th Chaos Communication Congress last week, Cory Doctorow outlines the primary threat to software freedom in the 21st century: that as our lives become more dependent upon general-purpose computers, the attempts of industry and government to control computing will fundamentally endanger our personal liberty. Using the now-familiar history of digital rights management—its rise, its failure, and legislative efforts to enforce it—Cory illustrates how those threatened by technology will inevitably seek to cripple it. But the so-called copyright wars waged by content owners, he says, were only "a skirmish."

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At the Software Freedom Law Center, we do our internal accounting with free software. We had been using John Wiegley's Ledger for quite some time, and now we are also using Simon Michael's hledger.

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OSCON is probably the single largest annual gathering of free software developers in the world, so it's always a good opportunity for SFLC to catch up with the projects we work with and to make new friends in the community. I only got to spend two days at OSCON 2011, but in that time I met and talked shop (and microbrews and vegan donuts) with lots of folks who are making impressive contributions to free software. I also got to talk about Legal Basics for Developers with Karen Sandler to a fantastic and engaged audience.

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In the haze of confusion surrounding the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Bilski v. Kappos, the appeals board of the United States Patent and Trademark Office issued a ruling last week that takes a definitive stand against the worst kinds of patents that threaten software developers every day.

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