[opensource-dev] Brown-bag meeting to continue dialog on TVPV next Tuesday (4/13)

Jay Reynolds Freeman jay_reynolds_freeman at mac.com
Fri Apr 9 16:18:55 PDT 2010

CeeJay Tigerpaw squeaks up:

I think there is rather a meta issue here which should be articulated again clearly, before the meeting, that has to do with the interaction between substantial established businesses and the open-source/third-party-developer community.   Let me see if I can describe it.

It is common for substantial established businesses -- such as Linden Laboratories -- to use legal agreements of various kinds to attempt to protect themselves from one another:  When a lot of businesses do that, the result sometimes looks rather like threat display among elephants; everybody spreads out their ears and wiggles them in an intimidating manner, and if everybody is sufficiently intimidated there probably won't be any actual fighting.  Avoiding fighting is all to the good -- after all, that is what threat displays are for.  Lawyers are part of a grand tradition of intimidation among animals.

Unfortunately, there is a problem when using the same tactic with the open-source/third-party-developer community:  Most of the individual members of that community surely do not retain lawyers to assist in development and distribution of code.  To that extent, we have very small ears, and we are easily intimidated.  We are mice, and when elephants wiggle their ears, sensible mice run away and hide.  Evolution exerts great pressure for mice to be very sensible.

Therefore, *if* a substantial established business should happen to make a business decision, to the effect that open-source/third-party developers are valuable resources, *then* it follows that said business should make efforts not to scare off the mice.  In particular, any legal agreements which that business expects open-source/third-party developers to agree with, should not only (1) protect those developers, but also (2) make clear just what protection is afforded, in language that is both (a) legally binding and (b) easily understandable without the aid of a lawyer (since developers probably do not retain lawyers).

I am not a lawyer and do not play one on the Internet, but I believe I understand that goals (2a) and (2b) above may be difficult to achieve at the same time; yet if they are not achieved then the mice will all run away and the business will lose valuable resources:  The business's lawyers will inadvertently have acted contrary to the business's own interests.

I believe the essence of the problem here is that depending on just what LL actually thinks of the open-source/third-party-developer community, we may have an instance of this issue; if so, LL needs to think carefully how to make its legal position best further its business interests.

Now excuse me while I scamper off; I think I have a piece of cheese in my mousehole ...

CeeJay Tigerpaw
Jay_Reynolds_Freeman at mac.com
http://web.mac.com/jay_reynolds_freeman (personal web site)

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