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Author Topic: If and when can you be sued for open source? Donationware?  (Read 6337 times)

alivingspirit

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If and when can you be sued for open source? Donationware?
« on: October 29, 2008, 10:04:23 PM »
I have heard allot of conflicting reports about the legal status of open-source software. If you create something that infringes a copyright but distribute it as open source can you be sued and how badly? I know I'm wrong about this but I want some clarification. It seems to me that since you are not making money off of it theres not much the company can sue you for. Where does Donationware fit in to all this?

mouser

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Re: If and when can you be sued for open source? Donationware?
« Reply #1 on: October 30, 2008, 02:47:24 AM »
anyone can get sued for anything.. whether you have money or not doesn't really affect that.
but how much money you are making (or causing someone else to lose) may affect the incentive for someone suing you.

ie if you are making millions -- people will sue you whether they have grounds or not.
if you are not making anything -- someone really has to have it out for you to sue you :)

justice

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Re: If and when can you be sued for open source? Donationware?
« Reply #2 on: October 30, 2008, 06:15:04 AM »
just my uninformed opinion ;)
When something is open-source that doesn't exclude the fact that it can be violating patents etc of closed software or even other open source software AFAIK. So then you can still get sued as a developer of open source patent violating software ;)

However if you're talking about community owned open source software then perhaps you'd have to find the programmer responsible to sue or if the whole community is resposbile then sure the whole community which presents obvious obstacles.
« Last Edit: October 30, 2008, 06:18:51 AM by justice »

Grorgy

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Re: If and when can you be sued for open source? Donationware?
« Reply #3 on: October 30, 2008, 03:07:18 PM »
It may be worth your while contacting a lawyer who is expert in this area.  Being a lawyer they probably won't be cheap but if you have concerns about that type of thing then the cost is probably easier to bear than a resulting court case.

alivingspirit

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Re: If and when can you be sued for open source? Donationware?
« Reply #4 on: October 30, 2008, 08:38:24 PM »
No, I'm not looking for legal advice. ;) I was just curious that's all. It seemed like an interesting topic. 

mahesh2k

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Re: If and when can you be sued for open source? Donationware?
« Reply #5 on: November 01, 2008, 07:43:51 AM »
Quote
if you are not making anything -- someone really has to have it out for you to sue you
  LOL :D

Eóin

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Re: If and when can you be sued for open source? Donationware?
« Reply #6 on: November 01, 2008, 09:33:23 AM »
One interesting thing of note is that past experience seems to suggest that you can only get in trouble for shipping binaries.

So for example the LAME crowd only officially made source code releases. Third parties who wish to include compiled binaries with their software are responsible for licensing. The Wikipedia article has a small snippet on that.

Exactly how concrete such a stance is legally of course I don't know.

alivingspirit

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Re: If and when can you be sued for open source? Donationware?
« Reply #7 on: November 02, 2008, 05:57:49 PM »
I found this.
Quote
The typical open source project is a grass-roots effort that contains contributions from many people. This method of development can be worrisome from an intellectual property standpoint because it creates multiple opportunities for contributors to introduce infringing code and makes it almost impossible to audit the entire code base. The risks of this development process are largely borne by the licensees. Contributors do not vouch for the cleanliness of the code they contribute to the project; in fact, the opposite is true -- the standard open source license is designed to be very protective of the contributor. The typical license form does not include any intellectual property representations, warranties or indemnities in favor of the licensee; it contains a broad disclaimer of all warranties that benefits the licensor/contributors.
Even if such representations and warranties or indemnity obligations existed in open source license agreements, it would be difficult if not impossible to recover against the licensor for having licensed infringing code. Many of the most prominent open source projects appear to be owned by thinly-capitalized non-profit entities that do not have the financial wherewithal in most cases to answer for a massive intellectual property infringement suit.
I suppose everything there is fairly obvious but I think it kind of sums up the issue very nicely.

mikiem

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Re: If and when can you be sued for open source? Donationware?
« Reply #8 on: November 05, 2008, 07:40:11 PM »
Entirely FWIW, & you might check out Electronics Frontier Foundation etc...

AFAIK a successful lawsuit has to show intent to knowingly defraud or whatever - Video sharing got off for a while claiming they'd remove anything on request, & I've seen a lot of software disclaimers that say please contact us if we've used any (c) code.