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The implications of using FOSS under Australian copyright and contract law

Time:10:30 - 11:15
Day:Thursday 21 January 2010
Location:Renouf 2 (MFC)
Project: Free and Open Source Software in Collaborative Projects

There are important legal issues that may be overlooked when deciding to incorporate FOSS into commercial software collaborative projects. Anne's PhD thesis explores how the law, particularly Australian copyright and contract principles, affects the interpretation and utilisation of FOSS in collaborative projects that develop software for commercial distribution and what measures can be implemented to enhance certainty in the interpretation and use of FOSS.

The presentation will focus upon the following questions raised by Anne's research:

  1. How do Australian copyright and contract law impact upon the enforceability and interpretation of FOSS, particularly the GPLv2 and GPLv3? Are these licences contractual in nature?
  2. What are the implications under copyright and contract law of combining software code subject to different software licences (both FOSS and proprietary) within the one software product? More specifically:

    1. How does copyleft under the GPLv2 and GPLv3 impact upon the use of multiple software licences within the one product? In other words, when will the combination of code subject to the GPLv2 or GPLv3 with other (FOSS or proprietary) licensed code mean that the whole product will have to be subject to the GPLv2 or GPLv3?
    2. Who owns the software product?
    3. How do those involved in collaborative projects deal with licensing and ownership issues in practice? Anne is interviewing developers that have been involved in developing commercial software products that utilise FOSS to determine how they deal with these issues.

If these areas of legal uncertainty are not addressed, they may impact upon the long-term success and sustainability of collaborative projects. Anne’s thesis will critically assess the viability of different FOSS licences, especially the GPLv2 and GPLv3, for use in commercial collaborative projects and provide suggestions on how projects can avoid any risks associated with the use of FOSS.

Anne Chin

Anne is currently doing her PhD thesis on legal aspects of FOSS licences at the Law Faculty, Monash University, Australia.

Although Anne has science and law degrees from Monash University and is a qualified lawyer, she only discovered FOSS during her work as a Research Assistant at the Law Faculty, Monash University in 2006 on the Dataset Acquisition, Accessibility, and Annotation e-Research Technologies ('DART') project. This project investigated ways to enhance how research is conducted and communicated. Anne was so fascinated by the concepts and legal issues surrounding FOSS that she decided to devote her thesis to delving further into FOSS legal issues.

As Anne's science degree majored in pharmacology and she has had no previous experience with the technical aspects of computing, she is also enjoying the challenge of learning about programming and the inner workings of computers.

In terms of the law, Anne is particularly interested in intellectual property law issues, such as copyright. Anne is also a contract law tutor at Monash University.