Re: [Spi-private] IRC log from 2003-02-04 SPI Board meeting

From: Theodore Ts'o <tytso(at)mit(dot)edu>
To: spi-general(at)lists(dot)spi-inc(dot)org
Subject: Re: [Spi-private] IRC log from 2003-02-04 SPI Board meeting
Date: 2003-02-26 14:58:20
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On Wed, Feb 26, 2003 at 01:28:46AM +0100, Michael Banck wrote:
> Fair enough. But on the other hand, I guess SPI has to decide whether
> *it* wants to take up any risks and stand up for whatever code it
> accepted. What happens if some company decides they have a patent on
> something and tries to sue us into oblivion?

Well, life is full of tradeoffs. One advantage of a distributed
copyright ownership is that it makes life a lot harder for some
company who has a patent on something to sue someone into oblivion.
To take a concrete example, which would get elicit more world-wide
sympathy, and which would be harder to do?

1) For an big, multi-billion dollar U.S. company to sue an innocent
17-year boy in Norway, under Norwegian laws? (Replace 17-year boy
with 26-year old Russian with two children, aged two-and-a-half and
three months for another example.)

2) Or for that same company to sue a faceless non-profit corporation
which most people (and certainly all non-geeks) haven't heard of
before, in a U.S. courtroom?

Think about that, for a moment.

If you want to protect the assets of the SPI, then contact a good
lawyer, and ask him/her to help you set up a subsidary, or sister
corporation to hold the IPR that you're so interested in centralizing,
but which otherwise has little to no assets. It needs to be separate
enough that lawsuits against it can't pierce the corporate liability
shield, but which SPI (and other non-profit organizations) could
choose to funnel money to it via donations if it needs to defend
itself in court. (Or such organizations could donate legal help
directly to specific cases, as the EFF has done from time to time.)

The bottom line is a good lawyer should be able to help the SPI use
corporations they way they were meant to be used; to help individuals
to duck out of being held personally liable. It's important to
remember that the same legal rules that allow a company to be sued for
millions for making coffee too hot also has provisions that allow rich
people to shield their personal wealth from much of that liability.
If the SPI wants to do something like centralize copyright holdings
(and I'm really not convinced it's worth it), the least it can do is
to use similar techniques to protect individual open source
contributors' assets as much as possible.

- Ted

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