php meetup

The Code of Open Source Licenses

Comparing the Art of Programming with Legalese

September 22nd, 2009

Wow, what a great summer that was. It's hard to believe that was called "summer" and that we're in the *bers of 2009 already, and it's even harder to believe how similar legal and contract writing is to programming. But let's face it - you're either programming a computer system, or programming a legal system. This September, we're looking forward to a one-of-a-kind talk, and pleased to have Charles B. Kramer, Esq. (blog) speak on the fundamentals of licenses and intellectual property (IP) of the software world and how, in fact, legalese is just another form of programming.

A software license is like source code -- it should contain consistent definitions, processes that branch upon "if/then" conditions, and predictable consequences when one or another event triggers termination. Once you learn what the "code" of a well structured license looks like, you'll be able to distinguish between a license that is confusing because it's difficult, and one that's confusing because it's just poorly drafted.

The talk will have two parts:
  1. The well structured license
    I'll show how the structure for every license (shareware, mainframe, for cloud computing, for applet word processors, for whatever) is the same, and can be tested by asking this series of deceptively easy questions:
    • Who are the parties and what is their relationship?
      • simple case: licensor --> licensee
      • source code license with a license back
      • may involve services, IP other than copyright, etc.
    • What components are being licensed?
    • What rights are being licensed?
    • The actual license:
      • Where do the licensed components go (on a server? embedded in a chip?)
      • What rights go with each component?
      • What conditions apply
  2. General Public License 2.0
    I'll use the questions for analyzing license structure to test the most famous of the "viral" open source licenses, which will confirm just how brilliant the license is conceptually, and just how poorly drafted. The analysis will help clarify:
    • some key terms of GPL 2.0 software, including terms for internal use, and "dual distribution" licensing plans; and
    • why some GPL 2.0 terms may prove to be unenforceable.

Charles B. Kramer is an intellectual property and corporate attorney based in New York City. His experience includes 3 years as an associate in the Wall Street law firm Lord, Day & Lord, 10 years managing a private law practice, and 5 years as General Counsel of a software company in New Jersey. He has particular experience representing computer game companies, and has spoken many times about cutting-edge legal issues at conferences, including at the Game Developers Conference and the Digital Video Conference. In 2001 he became a distance bicycling fanatic, and did the Transportation Alternative Century (100+ miles!) in 2001 and 2002. He can be reached via his blog.

Thank you to IBM for providing a great presentation space in Midtown Manhattan. As a service to our community, New York PHP Community meetings are always free and open to the public.


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