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Open Source Development Labs, a consortium of companies seeking to accelerate adoption of the Linux operating system, has contributed $4 million to set up a legal center for nonprofit open-source projects and developers. The Software Freedom Law Center, announced last week, will be headed by Columbia Law School Professor Eben Moglen, who currently serves as counsel to the Free Software Foundation, the organization that created the terms under which Linux is licensed. Open Source Development Labs’ member companies include IBM Corp., Hewlett-Packard Inc. and Intel Corp. Open-source software, which is typically developed by paid and unpaid volunteers who freely distribute their work, has been under legal attack since Linden, Utah-based SCO Group Inc. claimed some of its intellectual property has seeped into open-source projects. Legal volleys coming? So far, there has been little impact on Linux and other open-source projects, though other proprietary software companies could launch legal volleys. Open Source Risk Management Inc. last year estimated that the Linux kernel itself potentially infringes on 283 patents. Companies that distribute the software cannot be held liable under the terms of the Free Software Foundation’s GNU General Public License, leaving users, the projects and developers in a cloud of legal vulnerability. “The law center is being established to provide legal services to protect the legitimate rights and interests of free and open-source software projects and developers, who often do not have the means to secure the legal services they need,” Moglen said. Open Source Development Labs (OSDL) has contributed $4 million as seed money for the independent legal center, which will be based in New York. It previously set up a $10 million legal defense fund for Linux creator Linus Torvalds and companies facing SCO-related costs. “We encourage other companies and organizations like OSDL who are dedicated to securing the future of open-source software to contribute to the law center and participate in its good works,” said Stuart Cohen, OSDL’s chief executive. The law center’s board of directors will be made up of Moglen, OSDL General Counsel Diane Peteres, Massachusetts Institute of Technology computer scientist Daniel Weitzner and Stanford Law School Professor Lawrence Lessig. The legal center expects to have two full-time intellectual property attorneys on staff, with plans to expand to four attorneys later in 2005. Initial clients include the Free Software Foundation and the Samba Project, which develops software so that computers running Linux and other non-Windows operating systems can share files with machines running Windows.

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