My take on the status of FTF (FSFE's legal department)

Ciaran O'Riordan ciaran at
Fri Oct 31 13:05:45 UTC 2008

I've put together a blog entry to say what the FTF does:

Below is the text, but in the actual blog entry there are links which might
also be interesting.

You can vote for it on FSDaily:

 Inside FSFE, we talk a lot about our legal department, the FTF. I was in
 the Zurich office a while ago with the FTF's coordinator, Shane Coughlan,
 and took the opportunity to gather some info for anyone interested.

The FTF works in five main areas:

   1. Building a European legal network
   2. Producing documentation
   3. GPL enforcement
   4. FLA agreement for copyright management
   5. Training and consultation

1. Legal network

For two years now, Shane's been building this network of lawyers and licence
experts which now includes 145 members. Three quarters of the members are
lawyers. The others are experts in company policy, licences, or technical
aspects of licence enforcement. About 120 come from Europe, and the others
are spread across The Philippines, Japan, Singapore, China, Taiwan, South
Korea, Australia, Canada, and the USA.

I think most network members support FSFE's work. I know others don't, and
that's ok. Whether we share a vision for the future or not, everyone has to
obey the GPL, so it's useful for free software licence compliance
specialists to talk with each other and share best practices. Most
discussion is about the GPL, but we talk about all free software licences.

Other topics such as software patents and antitrust are also discussed.

FTF organised Europe's first free software legal conference in Amsterdam in
April with 53 members of the legal network attending - 5 coming from outside
of Europe. Feedback from the attendees was very positive, so there'll
certainly be more such conferences in the mid-term future.

2. Producing documentation

Some of the documentation produced by FTF is already online - there's a
documentation section on the website. One type is the documents Shane
produces, such as the useful tips for users of GPL, and same for vendors of
GPL'd software.

Another type is the documents that the network members pass around among
themselves. These are usually procedures, guidelines and other documents
that have existed for a long time internally in their various companies. If
these documents cannot be published, then at least by circulating them
privately in the network, they can expand the knowledge of many free
software lawyers. In the long term, some of these documents might become
publishable or, if allowed by the author(s), will be used for the basis of
our own documents.

3. GPL enforcement

This is the quietest part of FTF's work. We don't go to court, and we don't
go to Slashdot. Compliance is gotten while maintaining relations with the
distributor. Of course, we also work with, which does
take people to court. We've been working with them since FTF started in
2006, and earlier this year we agreed to deepen that relationship. And to
reduce problems originating from the manufacturers, the "for users" and "for
vendors" useful tips have been translated and distributed in Chinese and
Korean (they're temporarily offline during a webpage reorganisation).

4. FLA: Fiduciary Licence Agreement

The Fiduciary Licence Agreement is used when a developer wants to grant an
organisation the ability to enforce the licence of the code, and give them
the ability to update the licence of the code - with the limit that the new
licence must also be a free software licence. The developer doesn't lose
their copyright, so they can also enforce and change their licence of their
code, without limits.

This is important for legal maintainability of a project. If a problem is
discovered with the licence, having a central body maintaining the copyright
would allow the project to avoid the difficulty of find all past authors and
getting unanimous agreement on what changes to make to the licence. A big
recent success is that KDE announced that they're going to use it. More good
news is that it should soon be in 10 languages. FSFE has become the legal
guardian for a small number of project, such as OpenSwarm and Bacula, but
that's not our focus for the FLA.

5. Training and consulation

Lastly, Shane visits companies or regions to deliver training courses on
free software licences and legal issues. A skeleton course is online on the
SELF platform: The strategic implementation of Free Software in business.

These courses are educational for legal experts dealing with free software,
and they're also a way for the FTF to be financially sustainable. If you
work for a company that has a legal department and that deal with free
software, you can help the FTF by suggesting to your boss that they get
Shane to deliver a course. With so many big companies profiting from free
software, and with the FTF providing value to so many lawyers for free, it's
only right that the costs of the FTF be covered by these companies rather
than the income we get from the community (through the Fellowship). Another
significant source of funding for which we're grateful is NLnet.

Ok. That what I see the FTF doing. If you read this far, I hope I answered
some questions!

CiarĂ¡n O'Riordan, +32 477 36 44 19,

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