Weve got to find a better way to settle open-source disputes than fighting them out in the press.
In the latest tussle, Furthermore and Miro, the copyright owner to the open-source Mambo OS content management system, are fussing over whether some Furthermore copyrighted code was improperly placed in Mambo.
The OSSI (Open Source Software Institute) offered to act as a neutral mediator between the Furthermore and Miro, but Miro CEO Peter Lamont would have none of it since, Lamont claimed, OSSI was on Furthermores side.
OSSI disagrees, so its stepping out of the middle of this mud fight. As it stands now, there are no communications between the two sides.
If nothing changes, Furthermore has already told Mambo customers that if they dont come to an arrangement with Furthermore, they may be sued.
What a mess.
Despite stories you may have read elsewhere, Futhermores legal claims against the Mambo community are still as good, or bad, as they ever were.
One of the problems with this fight has been that many open-source supporters keep trying to see it as a battle between good open-source people and evil proprietary software goons. Its not. It never was.
As Philip H. Albert, a partner in the San Francisco-based law firm Townsend and Townsend and Crew LLP, told me last week, “This is, as described, not really an open-source case. Its more a matter of copyright infringement and contract law where it just so happens that the people being accused do open source.”
The fact that the code in question is a derivative of GPL-licensed code, thus placing it under the GPL (GNU General Public License) really isnt relevant. The real question is whether the programmer, Emir Sakic, took code he did under contract to Furthermore and placed it into Mambo.
-Source Business Needs”> Now, I dont know what Sakics contract said. But Ive done a lot of programming over the decades, and in every place I ever worked or did contract programming, my contracts always had “work for hire” clauses that made it perfectly clear that any work I did on the job belonged to the company.
Should Furthermore have released that code under the GPL? Maybe; as I understand the GPL, it depends on whether Furthermore itself distributed the code.
But thats not the problem at hand. The real problem is that Furthermore says the programmer took its copyrighted code and placed it in an open-source project, and neither the Mambo group nor its corporate copyright owner, Miro, is trying to resolve the issue anywhere except in Web site “news” releases.
This is not the way to do it.
The open-source business needs two things. The first are organizations such as Black Duck Software with its software that checks for IP (intellectual property) problems, and OSRM (Open Source Risk Management), which offers open-source indemnification and insurance services. These companies help clear out possible IP conflicts before they become public or courtroom fights.
We need more, though. The open-source community also needs—and boy does this fight point it out—a recognized, neutral arbitration board. Such a group could take these kinds of disagreements between open-source groups and companies and settle them before they become public flame wars.
No, that wouldnt help much for the massive IP battles such as SCO versus IBM over Unix and Linux. For situations like that, the courts are the only answer. But for other, smaller matters, such as Furthermore versus Mambo and Miro, having a recognized, accepted arbitration group that could settle such matters could only be a positive good.
Anything would be better than what we have now. As it is, everyone involved in this public catfight is being damaged. And I might add, so is the whole open-source community.
eWEEK.com Senior Editor Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols has been using and writing about operating systems since the late 80s and thinks he may just have learned something about them along the way.