[OSGeo-Discuss] Re: Liability protection project - call for participants

Frank Warmerdam warmerdam at pobox.com
Mon May 14 20:32:53 PDT 2007


Bruce Perens is a luminary in the open source world, and known as a
founder of the Debian project, and author of the Free Software
Definition - a foundational document for the concept of OSI approved
open source licenses.

Bruce Perens wrote:
 > A long time ago we planned for SPI to protect Debian developers from
 > liability connected with their development of Free Software. That never
 > came to fruition. With the sword-rattling going on by various patent
 > holders, it's  a goal even more worth carrying out today.
 > Some of us have homes, and other property that we would rather not place
 > at risk of any lawsuit connected with our Free Software activities. The
 > way to do that is to act as a volunteer on the behalf of a non-profit
 > corporation, with the corporation assuming your liability. It is
 > possible to insure you against those risks, but it's much more expensive
 > - potentially 1.5 to 2.5 percent of your net worth per year per member.
 > It's better to put the risk in the lap of an entity that doesn't own
 > anything. We can potentially do it at zero cost to the member that way.
 > There is a downside. If you work on behalf of such an entity, you would
 > have to agree to act at their direction, which means acting responsbily
 > on their behalf, by not doing stupid stuff that obviously increases the
 > corporation's risk of being sued. This doesn't really have to do with
 > practical software, but with what some consider freedom-of-speech issues
 > like obscentity or hate speech. For that reason, this would be strictly
 > opt-in. It would not be directly associated with SPI or Debian, because
 > we could never get all of the DDs to agree about this, and because SPI
 > owns property that we do not want to expose to liability. Copyrights of
 > software produced would be assigned to a non-profit like FSF or SPI*
 > I am asking for current free software authors in the United States who
 > would be interested in being protected from liability, and would join me
 > in a request to the Software Freedom Law Center to assist us by creating
 > such an entity. If you would like to do that, please reply to me at
 > bruce at perens.com . Further discussion will be carried out separately
 > from SPI and Debian lists.
 >    Thanks
 >    Bruce
 > * There should also be limits on how much software a single non-profit
 > has in its "risk pool", this is a good question for SFLC.

At the time it was founded, OSGeo also had a goal to provide legal
resources, and perhaps assume legal liability for developers of OSGeo
project.  This is not a role that OSGeo has worked to address since
founding, and it is unclear how much liability it would be willing to

I've asked Bruce for more information on his efforts, either with an
eye towards OSGeo fulfilling this role of legal liability shield for
developers, or possibly with the idea of addressing this via some
separate entity such as the one he envisages establishing.

I'm interested in others thoughts on the importance of the role of
"legal liability shield".  Such thoughts would be well expressed
here on OSGeo discuss.

Bruce is also interested in other open source software developers
expressing interest in his effort to help justify forming a corporation.
You can contact him as noted above.

Best regards,
I set the clouds in motion - turn up   | Frank Warmerdam, warmerdam at pobox.com
light and sound - activate the windows | http://pobox.com/~warmerdam
and watch the world go round - Rush    | President OSGeo, http://osgeo.org

More information about the Discuss mailing list