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I have a question about open source software.

Questions: Where do you get legal advice from?

Do you have to find a lawyer specialised in software issues right from the bat, or do you get legal advice from lawyers that may join the community later on?

Is there any other way a newly created open source organization may seek advice on legal issues?

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By paying for it? – TZHX Jul 4 '12 at 12:19
@TZHX: but the question still remains. where do you find a lawyer who can speak intelligently about the peculiarities of open source software? If you pick just any lawyer, you might be payong for a lot of study time. – Bryan Oakley Jul 4 '12 at 12:39
Did you consider contacting a lawyer that deals with copyright? – Jarrod Roberson Jul 4 '12 at 23:37
@JarrodRoberson Copyright law knowledge is a necessity for such a lawyer, but FOSS licensing is way more specific and less-known. I mean, until recently, the validity of GPL as an enforceable license was disputed in the USA... – K.Steff Jul 5 '12 at 0:04
Please specify country - it completely depends on that. – James Jul 5 '12 at 7:50
up vote 11 down vote accepted

The Software Freedom Law Centre or Electronic Frontier Foundation are good places to start.

The Software Freedom Law Center provides pro-bono legal services to developers of Free, Libre, and Open Source Software. More >>

From the Internet to the iPod, technologies are transforming our society and empowering us as speakers, citizens, creators, and consumers. When our freedoms in the networked world come under attack, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is the first line of defense... From the beginning, EFF has championed the public interest in every critical battle affecting digital rights.

Blending the expertise of lawyers, policy analysts, activists, and technologists, EFF achieves significant victories on behalf of consumers and the general public. EFF fights for freedom primarily in the courts, bringing and defending lawsuits even when that means taking on the US government or large corporations. By mobilizing more than 140,000 concerned citizens through our Action Center, EFF beats back bad legislation. In addition to advising policymakers, EFF educates the press and public...

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+1 good suggestions - I hadn't thought of those – GlenH7 Jul 4 '12 at 11:51
+1, in the past the EFF has provided 'bona fide' legal services to open-source projects in cases they consider landmark or otherwise important. – K.Steff Jul 4 '12 at 23:20
Do they only provide to USA projects tho? – James Jul 5 '12 at 7:51
@K.Steff I think you mean "pro bono"? – Scott Whitlock Jul 5 '12 at 11:59
One would hope their advice was bona fide, too ;-) – user4051 Jul 5 '12 at 15:59

I spoke with a lawyer at Gowlings in Ottawa (for Canadian stuff). They were very professional and knowledgeable. What you want is a law firm that specializes in intellectual property law.

However, having gone through all that, I warn you they are very expensive and they told me very little that I hadn't already found out on my own by reading a legal text book on the subject of intellectual property law.

One thing of value they did for me was to draw up a commercial software license agreement, and they can also draw up a copyright assignment document that you may want contributors to sign before you accept any significant source code contributions from them. (Agreement to share the ownership between both you and them.) Again, these are things you can try to write yourself based on other ones you find around the internet, but lawyers are supposed to catch things that we might miss.

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All legal advice is local.

If the operation is based in the US, there are a few options.

  • NOLO is one option.
  • Run a google search.
  • check around in your local community as there are often free services offered from firms.

You can always call and ask various firms if they are willing to work pro bono.

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@ElYusubov - I rolled back your edit as my experience has not mirrored that statement. Any introductory conversation merely identifies if that attorney is able to assist with your concern or not. Little can be accomplished in 15 minutes, at least as far as the OP's original question presented. – GlenH7 Jul 4 '12 at 22:36

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