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Linux and Lawyers 77

desslok writes "This article in the National Law Journal talks about how Linux might make work scarce for intellectual property lawyers. It describes the open source model and how it will mix with business from a legal standpoint."
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Linux and Lawyers

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    I like lawyer jokes. I'm studying EE. (And also history, but that's beside the point.) I also intend to be a lawyer -- an IP lawyer, even worse!
    I also run Linux and support Open Source. There is no contradiction.

    Most people only notice laws when they are inconvenient or boneheaded, and as a consequence, they are usually in a bad mood when they run into lawyers. What people don't realize is that the entire foundations of our society are based in law -- the good and the bad. The idea of freedom, for instance, is intrinsic to the structure of the law. While people and corporations both take advantage of the law in some situations, in general, the only thing that you have on your side in a might-makes-right world is the the law, as boneheaded as it can sometimes be.

    The law is a collective fiction that we accept as a society. In a way very similar to economics, it applies a rational framework for understanding the effects of our actions on other people. More to the point, open source will never obviate the need for intellectual property lawyers. IP will need to be rethought, but I don't see any harm in that. IP is just the legal mechanism for recognizing that intangibles can have value, as well. In that way, IP is very similar to open source -- they are both just systems for managing ideas in a (more or less) efficient manner.

    Now, I make no excuses for stupid laws nor stupid lawyers. But, as Rex Lee (former solicitor general of the U.S.) once said, "You can't judge an entire profession by two or three . . . hundred . . . thousand . . . bad examples."
  • I found this article to be terribly researched. The author seems to imply that Linus invented Free Software! Looka at this quote:
    "Linux developers have created a model that will tend to reduce legal involvement on the intellectual property level," says Stephen M. Goodman, a partner at New York's Pryor, Cashman, Sherman & Flynn L.L.P.
    Hmmm, wasn't the GPL written by the FSF?

    Also look at this:

    Today, as many as 27 million copies of Linux may be in use, but given Linux's unique distribution pattern, precise numbers are impossible to obtain.
    Well, I'm not going to discuss whether this might be close to the truth or not, but, well, the media usually don't go around saying GNU/Linux has 27 million users.

    Overall, this article simply was not well researched. The author should look into the history of Free Software and assign credit where it's due.


  • I won't discuss whether Linux may or may not have 27 million users by now. The point is that, in the context of such a superficially researched article, I'm about as willing to believe it was a typo, and the author meant 7 million.


  • Hmm, I heard it as:

    Q. What's the difference between a dead skunk in the road and a dead lawyer in the road?

    A. Skid Marks.

    Also, what do you call 100 lawyers lying at the bottom of the harbour?

    A. A good start.
  • There are skid marks in front of the dog.


    There are no vultures snacking on the lawyer. Professional courtesy, y'know...
  • Hmm. It has been my (mis)fortune to know more lawyers than programmers. Both are groups that have very strong stereotypes. It has been my experience that about 30% of programmers fit the stereotype in most ways. It has been my experience that virtually all lawyers fit the stereotype in most ways. Even when I met one who insisted "we're not all like that; a few bad apples make the bunch look bad", he turned out to be someone who would sell his grandmother if the price was reasonable.

    If lawyers are tired of being beaten up on (poor things; $130/hr for this?) perhaps they should put a little less work into things like seeing how they can get their fingers into everyone's pie and a little more time into cleaning up their profession.

  • Posted by Mike@ABC:

    ...this article brings up a very good point. Despite a certain lack of understanding in this article, I find it comforting to know that the legal system is reacting to Linux, Open Source, free software, and everything else.

    Whether you're for it or not, the penguin is going mainstream, and pretty soon, the rest of society -- the lawyers, the journalists, the accountants, the McDonalds workers, etc. -- is eventually going to have to deal with this stuff. Better to be nice and help inform the lawyers rather than insult them. An angry lawyer isn't a good thing.

    Of course, that's just my opinion. I could be wrong.
  • and then a 95 year old, half blind woman runs into you with her car, a 55 Rambler American, after running through a stop sign, cripples you, and you are left with no income, no job, huge hospital bills and great pain.

    Then, a lawyer is your friend.
  • Lawyers protect you against the government, large corporations, and anyone else bigger than you. Lawyers have helped to give the little guy a chance. Albeit there are many many bad lawyers, the profession itself can be very noble if the lawyer isn't just out to screw over the little guy to make a buck.
  • Here's a win-win: lawyers get out of IP business, except to pursue GPL violators, as someone mentioned above.
    Above and beyond that, those lawyers who really have law in their blood, and can't/won't become technical people, could dog employers that treat their programmers like dirt.
  • I thought it was earlier in 2030's, something to do with 32bit machines?
  • Actually, what Shakespeare really wrote was "first thing we do, let's kill all the editors", but that never made it past the first draft.
  • who gets a third of whatever you get.
  • retraining them all as Open Source coders could
    even save the US (but would probably screw
    Open Source).

  • True, it sounded like his historical knowledge was weak. But 27 million? That makes sense! Do you remember where the 5 to 10 million number came from? It came from a study researched and published sometime around late 1997, if my memory serves. The media have all been quoting that same figure for the past year and a half, while saying that popularity growth has been over 100%, as much as 200%. So 10 million well over a year ago could easily be 30 million now.
  • Subtracting your bias because two lawyers you know are family, what have you said? They're normal people. Where I come from, that's not a compliment! But seriously, I think we all know that some lawyers are OK. I know a few, too. But stereotypes don't come from nowhere! There are good ones and bad ones and ones in between, but there seem to be a hell of a lot of bad ones... not too surprising when it's in your best interest for people to fight.
  • hehe... I can see the flame wars now...
  • This has got to be the most disgusting site I've ever seen. A clean break from net tradition. I can't believe anyone buys this shit. When I first saw it (using Alta Vista), I thought, "why would anyone ever use this?" - then later I learned Bill Gates was behind it. Fitting.

    I would just love to find some images on Corbis that they didn't pay for. I'm sure there are lots of them ... there's no way they got author's permissions for all that shit.
  • Have lawyers create a body of incomprehensible
    law and you will need a lawyer to interpret it.

    Rather like the present American systems of
    government and justice, no?

    Apparently, there was an amendment to the
    Constitution that would have prevented lawyers
    from holding elected office; there is
    disagreement over whether or not it was actually
    ratified. At the time, everyone's attention was
    focused on the, shall we say, small difference
    of opinion between the States on an unrelated

    The programmer analogy is apt, though.
    "The Internet interprets censorship as damage,

  • What would we do for jokes?

  • Check out this book: The Justice Game, by Geoffery Robertson []

    Not to mention all those free speech cases the EFF has been involved in - or the inevitable courtroom test of the GPL . . .

  • What do you have when you have a lawyer up to his neck in cement?

    Not enough cement
  • All this article states is that the IP Attorney market will be replaced by transaction practices.

    In other words, drop your IP attorney for a good Contract/Licencing Attorney.

    As much as you hate us, you can't get rid of us.

    Some of us do work for free (i.e., me)

    But then again, I'm almost certain that I'm the only lawyer who uses Debian on a full-time basis.

    If there are any lawyer readers here, email me and I'll show you how to be a much stronger force on the internet than the rest of your M$-o-phile colleagues.


  • He said it best "First thing we do, Let's kill all the lawyers."

    Since I am one, I often reflect on this quaint little addage.

    All it means is that bitching and bickering have been around for a long time. And as someone who has had first hand experience with divorce, criminal, bankruptcy, etc., etc., it's usually the clients that want to get dirty, not the lawyers.

    The lawyers just say "hell, ya! we'll smear 'em for ya," and the client sits back and loves watching his big guns trample the opposition. At least that is the perception.

    It's an sick fucking world my friend; lawyers are merely its mouthpiece...
  • Email me; I'd like to discuss things with you if you wouldn't mind.

    I'd be interested in learning more about your involvement with linux, OSS, etc. from the perspective of a legal professional.

    I'll be finishing law school here in a few months. I don't plan on practicing law much either. I have a business plan ;>.
  • Well, well, I was amused at the comment by the one IP lawyer who was certain that this was just a fad. Apparently, he doesn't realize that the other software (spreadsheets, word processors, etc) that is needed to run on the operating system is free as well. Wonder if he knows his ISP runs Linux?

    I don't want to sound too paranoid, but does it seem like the lawyers are just waiting to figure out how to deal with this cause celebre? The fed govt is already trying to figure out the taxing system for eCommerce (they want the biggest piece of the pie). We've got the morons passing laws on Y2K, and trying to figure out how to prosecute and defend the cases that are "inevitable". When do we let the suits know that that one is a hoax? ;)

    Btw, is it me or does anybody else realize we've still got nearly 49 years til Y2K (2K = 2048, right?)

    Oh well, I just wanted to bitch about lawyers. Oh might as well stop and thank one of them though. Mr. Vice President, thank you for creating this forum so I could bitch about your fellow lawyers.


  • My father is a lawyer, as is my brother. Believe it or not, they're human beings, and good people (took me years to realize my brother was OK, of course.) Both of 'em like lawyer jokes, even.

    Keep that in mind, will you, when you're posting about how all the idiot lawyers suck and they should be forced to live in stinking garbage heaps? I'm not saying all lawyers are saints - but c'mon, folks, most of 'em are just regular people.

    If they have any fault as a group, it's that they tend to live in their own little world, use terms that baffle outsiders, argue among themselves over things as simple as the definition and syntax, and spend long hours deciphering arcane and confusing language in an effort to try and produce something that approaches a working program... er, court case.

  • Well, for one, they (and the courts) are pretty much what keeps MS, Oracle, Intel, and other folks from just grabbing GPL'd software and ignoring the license requirements.

  • But stereotypes don't come from nowhere! No, they don't. Be careful, though - there's always the danger is that people outside the group come to expect the stereotype, instead of people, and that people inside the group start to act like the stereotype, instead of individuals. ... not too surprising when it's in your best interest for people to fight. Good point - laywyers, like police, or soldiers, or various other agents, exist to fight (court cases, crime, battles) and win. Most of my experience with lawyers has been seeing them in their "off" time. Someone who had to face a lawyer (or group of lawyers) day in, day out, as their central opponent in some conflict would no doubt have a different view.
  • Smart lawyers will still be able to make money suing those assholes that violate the GPL, like those who post only binaries of modified GPLed code. Maybe someone should put a reverse liability clause in the GPL: If you do not follow this license you may be liable to any lawyer for $100k or something. That would keep people from violating it.

  • winning in court isnt about being right, its about how long you can afford to stay in there... why do you think MS get away with so much? the world sucks doesnt it... always greed over morals
  • "As many as 27 million copies may be in use"

    Now, I've seen numbers up to maybe 10-12 million. But 27 ? I don't think so. Not yet :-)
  • #ifdef _TYPO_
    #define uglies ugliest
    // *heh* So sue me.
  • This article is too funny. Of course, lawyers might just be a bigger threat to Linux than Microsoft.

    Oh... sorry, I forgot. By the time the DOJ gets things wrapped up, the lawyers will be fine. They'll all be working for Microsoft.
  • OK, lawyer jokes are funny. And there is almost always a kernel of truth in them.

    But to lump lawyers together like some sort of homogenous group of narrow-minded, blindered technophobes is counter-productive, childish, and reflects poorly upon the OS movement.

    There are many members of the legal community (myself included) who have worked on OSS (I don't practice law, thank you). If you take the time to look, you will find a large number of thoughtful, aware, and intelligent lawyers and other legal professionals who really do understand what Linux and open source software is all about.

    Open your eyes a little, you may be surprised what you see.

  • I find it discouraging to see that one can't even invent something, drive outside the lines, shoot their neighbor's dog, etc. without the legal system getting involved! (I was kidding about that last one...) The world is digressing into legal mayhem where lawyers are pitting one against the other and coming out ahead regardless of the outcome. People seem to be more self centered and gullible than I thought -- I should have been a lawyer so I can take advantage of stupid people...

  • This is an edit of a message I posted to my (IP law) class mailing list... (Most of the links have appeared in Slashdot before).

    >With regard to the questions posed at the end of your email... I think
    >I'd be wanting a serious reduction in price if I were to have my rights in
    >the music made subject to a restrictive licence. Certainly it wouldn't go
    >down well with the music buying public, but then, if the corporations want
    >us to go this way we'll have no choice: they'll just withdraw the other
    >music media.

    Yup. People won't be happy with restrictive licences, but the corporations
    will try to introduce them anyway...

    Following my ramblings about proprietary vs. open formats, there is an interesting piece in Wired News, reporting a speech from the head of BROADCAST.COM, Mark Cuban.


    He says "distribution, not content, will be king" and that "MP3 will die".

    Two thoughts spring to mind.
    1. The golden rule of the web: "Content, Content, Content"
    2. Why give up what's free in favour of what costs?

    MP3 can't be uninvented - and new open formats will undoubtedly come along. I think this gives publishers and broadcasters a problem - they are going to have to find new ways to "add value" if they want to keep their markets.

    This also applies to Windows vs. Linux:


    Does anyone think governments, regulators, and the software and entertainment industries will be able to stem the tide?


    Hopefully this all ties in with the current study topics - I apologise if I'm just rambling on :-)

    I say sell, buy redhat and Transmeta :-)

    What do slashdot-ers think?


  • The rest of us recognize that when talking about anything other than computer memory/storage (which is addressed in binary), k for kilo means decimal one thousand. As in km, kW, kg, kiloton, etc.

    And besides, on Linux (or any other 32 bit unix) we have a year 2038 problem, not a year 2048 problem.
    I'll start worrying about that around the time that Star Wars episode IX is released... :-)
  • turning a wonderful positive thing,free software, into a movement designed to impoverish a whole class of people, IP lawyers. Do you suppose they'll sue?
  • ...I've just never been sure what it is.

  • Law is a necessary evil, as it keeps Microsoft under some measure of control. Lawyers, on the other hand, make a living by stretching, slicing, and sundering the law to fit the arbitrary viewpoint of their respective benefactors.

    I'm not bitter, mind you. ;)

    Just don't fall prey to the supposition that Law cannot exist without Lawyer.


My idea of roughing it is when room service is late.