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McDougall: "IT's Newest Title: 'Open Source Compliance Officer'"

From: Alexander Terekhov
Subject: McDougall: "IT's Newest Title: 'Open Source Compliance Officer'"
Date: Tue, 18 Dec 2007 17:18:41 +0100

Ha ha.

IT's Newest Title: 'Open Source Compliance Officer'

Posted by Paul McDougall, Dec 18, 2007 10:42 AM   »  E-Mail

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To a list that includes CIO and CTO you can now add, thanks to a legal
settlement, 'OSCO'. And here's why your company might soon need to hire

The background: Two developers of open source software licensed under
the GNU General Public License (GPL) earlier this year sued a tech
vendor for using their product in a manner contrary to the license.

Specifically, Erik Andersen and Rob Landley claimed that networking
hardware vendor Xterasys used their BusyBox software without providing
its source code to end users, as the GPL requires. 

(BusyBox is a set of tools that allows software to operate in resource
constrained environments--like a small networking device, for example.)

On Monday, the Software Freedom Law Center--an advocacy group that
backed the lawsuit--announced that Xterasys had reached a settlement
with Andersen and Landley.

Among the terms: Xterasys will cease all binary distribution of BusyBox
until the SFLC confirms that "it has published complete corresponding
source code on its Web site," according to a statement released by SFLC.
Xterasys will also make a cash payment, value undisclosed, to the

But here's the real kicker. As part of the deal, "Xterasys has agreed to
appoint an internal Open Source Compliance Officer to monitor and ensure
GPL compliance." The OSCO's duties will include notifying "previous
recipients of BusyBox from Xterasys of their rights under the GPL."

What's the message here for corporate IT departments? The SFLC is
basically saying that if you use of open source software willy nilly,
and don't comply to the letter with the GPL, it will drag you into court
and try its best to have a watchdog (watch penguin?) inserted into your

That's a scary thought.

And it's probably going to make more than a few CIOs shudder--given that
most Fortune 500 companies uses open source software in their
datacenters (think Linux or Apache) and many include it in the products
they sell.

Indeed, the SFLC recently sued Verizon for using BusyBox in a router
that's part of its FiOS broadband service. That case is still
pending--and could truly set a precedent given Verizon (NYSE: VZ)'s size
and legal resources.

If SFLC prevails, we might here an announcement from the phone giant
along the following lines. "Verizon is pleased [teeth gritted] to name
as Chief Open Source Compliance Officer…"

The question is whether all this is good or bad for the open source
software movement. It's possible that the SFLC's sudden litigiousness
will scare off potential open source users. That's something Andersen
and Landley might want to think about while counting their Xterasys


"Plaintiffs’ copyrights are unique and valuable property whose market 
value is impossible to assess"

                             -- SOFTWARE FREEDOM LAW CENTER, INC.

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