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

on Wed, Apr 06, 2005 at 06:59:11AM -0400, Aaron Tyo-Dickerson (aaron@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx) wrote:
> 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
> >limited.

> 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.

My pleasure.

I'd note that "NO WARRANTY" prominantly displayed on materials should
head off most issues.  I include this on Knoppix labels I prepare, see:


Speaking from my own experience having distributed several hundred disks
with my name and email address prominantly displayed:  I've had perhaps
a half-dozen contacts from people for any sort of assistance (usually
bad disks or older systems not supporting newer CDs).  And that includes
J. Random Internet User associating me with Knoppix and asking

One possible solution is to head some of this off by creating a local
informal support network (good task for an existing HS computer club).
There are also extensive online support sources for various free
software.  Prominantly noting these may shift yoru burden as well.

> 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
> >licenses.
> > 
> 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!

Note that license-discuss is _mostly_ for discussion of new license
approval by OSI, though other questions are generally well received.
Perhaps even better, as most of us are sick of specious new license
proposals...most of which fail numerous Open Source Definition


Karsten M. Self <kmself@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>        http://kmself.home.netcom.com/
 What Part of "Gestalt" don't you understand?
    The truth behind the H-1B IT indentured servant scam:

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