In late 2006 I became the first coordinator of the Free Software Foundation Europe’s legal department. It was called, for reasons lost to time, the “Freedom Task Force,” and it constituted myself, Carlo Piana as the General Counsel, and several volunteers with connections to organizations like gpl-violations.org. Our goal was strait forward. We wanted to enhance knowledge and communication across Europe with respect to open source software and to ensure that both commercial and non-commercial actors in the space would get the full benefit from its potential.
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One may ask why a legal department was being used for what sounds like a relatively general goal. Such a question can be answered with context from the time period. In 2006 one of the main discussions about sustainability for open source was related to legal matters, particularly concerns or challenges related to patents and copyright matters. Simplifying things somewhat, there were open questions regarding whether patent challenges could make open source expensive or unsustainable for commercial actors, and there were open questions regarding whether parties could or should follow the terms of open source licenses.
On the latter point, and somewhat amusingly when used from the perspective of today, some parties were of the opinion that the terms of open source licenses might not be mandatory. Harold Welte, the team at gpl-violations.org and lawyers like Dr. Till Jeager in Germany are owed a debt for laying this question conclusively to rest not only in their own nation but globally. While it may seem superficially counter-intuitive, their work to ensure clarity a substantial foundation to encourage and sustain commercial investment in the sphere. After all, when it comes to investment, a clear, unambiguous and level playing-field is vital.