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

Karsten M. Self wrote:

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

Thanks very much for the thorough and thoughtful response, Karsten. I agree that the "act of generosity" part of this Open CD distribution ought to deter complaints from reasonable people and have made that point to the district here. They are not so concerned about being actually sued (although we are in The Land of Frivolous Lawsuits) as just receiving complaints, unfulfillable requests for support and general "bad press" should there be a problem.

I should note that I, personally, have been very successful with my own distribution of The Open CD to teachers and administrators around Central New York and have not had any of the problems that this district envisions. I have explained this to the administration, but they are just a little more "concerned"...reasonable or not.

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.

This is good news, too. I did a database search for record of this sort of thing and turned up nothing, so I think you are right about the 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

Will check out the license-discuss list and also see what I can extract from the individual licenses for the software within The Open CD. (And it would be amazing, of course, to hear Eben Moglen's take on something like this, of course!) Thanks again, Karsten, for all of the ideas!


"Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem."

William of Ockham (ca. 1285-1349)