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Legal and Licensing Workshop 2017: Its 10th edition "restarts" debates in Free Software licensing

Written by Polina Malaja

In April, the FSFE organised its annual Free Software Legal and Licensing Workshop (LLW): a meeting point for legal experts from all over the world to discuss issues and best practices surrounding Free Software licences. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the LLW which was celebrated with the record number of participants: 120 top legal experts and technologists came all the way down to Barcelona (Spain) to spend 3 full days discussing legal challenges around Free Software.

This year, the workshop was held under theme "Restart". Based on the topics discussed in the previous editions, it seemed that several prominent discussions needed to be reopened in order to address emerging challenges. Experts had the opportunity to debate on various legal issues, including but not limited to: open data and hardware, open government, tooling for lawyers, software patents, copyright trolls and other existing challenges for Free Software compliance, by attending more than 35 presentations of internationally distinguished speakers with long-standing contribution in the field.

Admission to the event was open to all Legal Network members, while the whole event was covered under the Chatham House Rule, enabling confidential discussions under fair terms for all the participants.

The part of event was covered by Jake Edge from LWN.net, who underlined the following discussions during the workshop:

Shane Coughlan, Armijn Hemel and Mark Radcliffe participated in a panel discussing the rise of the copyright troll. Despite copyright trolls not being something new to the Free Software legal world, the three panelists analysed the methodology behind such enforcement efforts, based on McHardy's case in Germany, and discussed ways to address that problem through governance of Free Software projects.

The FSFE program manager, Max Mehl shared with the audience the FSFE's concerns about the EU radio equipment directive (RED). RED might be leading device makers to lock down their hardware, stripping users and vendors from their right to install alternative software of their choice on it. Existing legal uncertainty over newly introduced requirements for hardware manufacturers poses a real threat to Free Software enterprises and projects, thus a timely response to these concerns is critical for software freedom on all devices that emit and/or receive radio waves, including laptops and smartphones. Max Mehl presented the Joint Statement against Radio Lockdown, signed by almost 50 organisations and companies, and invited everyone to take part in the relevant discussions by subscribing to the dedicated mailing list.

Luis Villa, as one of the speakers presenting on open data, shed light on the legal implications that need to be taken into account, especially with regard to the data sets used by machine-learning systems. Privacy concerns, cross-jurisdictional issues, copyright claims and an emerging right to explanation are all open legal questions, waiting for a not-so-easy response, according to Luis Villa. A move towards open data has already begun in this area but the legal difficulties remain: can a copyright licence, albeit open*, address all these issues? The regulatory response from the governments may also not be the best solution to provide necessary leverage, according to Luis Villa.

In the Free Software world, the supply chain is perplexing and global, characterised by compliance challenges within numerous Free Software licences. Shane Coughlan described the OpenChain project as the means that helps companies in the supply chain to keep track of their compliance, irrespective of the preferred Free Software licence.

Another recent effort from the pioneers of the GPL compliance - Shane Coughlan and Armijn Hemel - was also presented during the workshop: Practical GPL Compliance is designed to guide individuals and companies for better GPL compliance when working with Free Software.

Last but not least, this year marked also a "restart" for our long-serving Fiduciary Licensing Agreement (FLA). The FLA is a well-balanced contributor agreement, which gives the trustee responsible power to make sure the contributed software always remain free and open. Matija Šuklje, the previous FSFE's Legal Coordinator and the main driving force behind the FLA update, presented the challenges, process and changes that led to the FLA-2.0. The biggest points of the update are that the FLA now also covers patents and enables more practical outbound licensing options, including a reference to an external licensing policy. In addition, the new wording is much improved both in its compatibility with more jurisdictions as well as being easier to understand and apply. The final text and a new website are to launch in the coming weeks, so watch this space.

The workshop would not have been possible without the generous support of all the event's sponsors. In particular, we would like to thank our Platinum Sponsors: Intel, Red Hat and The Linux Foundation.