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[school-discuss] Re: Disclaimer language for The Open CD

on Mon, Apr 04, 2005 at 09:50:28AM -0400, Aaron Tyo-Dickerson (aaron@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx) wrote:
> A local school district here in rural Upstate New York is interested in 
> distributing copies of The Open CD to students and community members, 
> but is concerned about "liability" issues. While I personally think that 
> free, open-source software is a terrific thing and understand the 
> implied "take it as it is" terms of the GPL and other legalese, I 
> understand the district's desire to head off any a) demands for "service 
> and support" and b) complaints that "that free stuff you gave me crashed 
> my computer". They would like a concise, easy to understand (by lay 
> users) disclaimer for the CDs that they would be distributing.
> I have checked The Open CD's website (http://www.theopencd.org) and 
> cannot find any language there that would seem to fit the bill, but have 
> thought that rather than invent a blurb of my own, I might appeal to 
> members of this list who have either done this sort of thing already or 
> else might know where to steer me for this. Thanks very much for any 
> responses that can shared on this!
> :-)

Pretty much *any* FSF Free Software / OSI Open Source license includes
liability disclaimer language specifically for the reasons you're
raising here, and all the major licenses (GPL/LGPL, BSD/MIT, MozPL,
Artistic) do.  Most of the "other" licenses are strongly based off of
these, generally based on corporate interests, and if anything have more
extended liability / warranty disclaimers.  Frequently something's being
distributed free of charge, and the prospect of being sued on the basis
of what's essentially an act of generosity is understandably best

Too:  the mainstream licenses (listed above) have for the most part a
decade or more experience.  They've been used by non-profits,
educational institutions (from primary to post-graduate), government
agencies, corporations, and individuals.  While there've been a few
disputes over Free Software misappropriate -- mostly code copied _from_
Free Software into proprietary products -- and there's the Caldera/SCO
vs. IBM contract dispute (actually a proxy war by Microsoft and Sun),
I'm _not_ aware of any cases involving liability claims arising out of
Free Software.  Not to say there haven't been any, but it's a low risk.

If you're in the US, remember that any idiot can pretty much sue any
other idiot on any pretext.  The licenses will provide a pretty good
defense, though, and publicizing any case will probably draw a lot of
support to your side as well (see the above-mentioned SCO/Caldera /
Microsoft / Sun suit).

There's a discussion, license-discuss, hosted by the OSI (Open Source
Initiative), to which I and others versed in Free Software licensing
subscribe.  Including a number of lawyers, several of them authors of
licenses themselves (Larry Rosen and Mitchel Baker in particular).
Eblen Moglen of the FSF is also highly approachable.  If your folks have
questions, they're more than welcome to post them to the list, for
a general understanding of issues.  Legal consultation from several of
the attorneys is also possible (Moglen, co-author of the GPL and FSF's
legal counsel) is generous with his time and my understanding is he'll
also consult if needs be.

Generally, though, this is really an area very well addresed by existing


Karsten M. Self <kmself@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>        http://kmself.home.netcom.com/
 What Part of "Gestalt" don't you understand?
    Non-coders who think they know better than experienced coders are...noise.
    - Jeff Waugh, describing the GNOME Project's user-feedback philosophy

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