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The Brief on Groklaw

The Scope of Groklaw

  • November 5, 2007
  • By Roy Schestowitz

When Pamela Jones, better known as PJ, started Groklaw, a Web site devoted to covering and explaining legal cases of interest to the Free Software and Open Source communities, she preferred to remain anonymous and showed no desire to become well-known. Groklaw nevertheless became extremely popular very quickly, and it soon established itself as the place to go for the latest developments in the SCO litigations.

It also covers news about patents, standards, licenses, and numerous other topics of interest to Groklaw's readers. It corrects misinformation, otherwise sometimes known as FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt). And it's a site where a large group of volunteers do legal research.

Jones was recently honored with a Knowledge Masters Award for Innovation by the Knowledge Trust and the Louis Round Wilson Academy, an annual award given to individuals who "further the creative and innovative use of, and balanced access to, the world's recorded knowledge." She also was one of the five winners this year of a Google-O'Reilly Open Source Awards at OSCON, in her case for "Best FUD Fighter."

In this Q & A, she explains how Groklaw operates, what its purposes include, and where it is likely to head in the future.

Q: Groklaw appears to have established itself as an authority in areas where law meets technology. Can you foresee a point in the future where Groklaw will shift its focus away from Linux and open source in favor of coverage of issues like censorship, copyrights, and fair use?

Pamela Jones: We cover copyrights and fair use now. Basically, Groklaw covers IP law, because that's my area of training, and I try to cover litigation of interest to the community, so I'm doubtful that anything would ever take us away from Linux and FOSS.

It's core. I don't think I'd ever expand into censorship. We don't cover politics at all on Groklaw.

Q: Many people have been anticipating the demise of SCO since its controversial litigation began. After 4 long years, signs of an inevitable demise started to appear and even materialize. Has the Groklaw community ever offered any sympathy to SCO? Was there an attempt to separate the managerial and legal aspects of SCO from more technical ones?

PJ: People say that now, that they always thought SCO would fail, but I remember it differently. When Groklaw began, as I remember it, we stood pretty much alone.

As for sympathy, I made a decision early on to concentrate only on the entities, ideas, and actions, not on individuals. I don't want ad hominem comments either. It's unseemly, hurtful, and unnecessary.

Personally, I have never wished for SCO's "demise," as you put it. I would be happier if they'd simply altered course and stayed in the Unix and Linux business. They certainly could have. It's sad to see people losing their jobs because of management decisions to chase such a strange litigation strategy. Had SCO chosen to stay in the Linux business, they could have made money. Red Hat is.

If FUD over Linux was the goal instead, then SCO must bear responsibility for the results of that decision. I can't admire such a course. But, yes, I feel for the people as people. I don't lose empathy for fellow humans, even when I disapprove of their conduct.

However, SCOsource was in my opinion an improper attempt to make money from the hard work of others, without a legitimate basis, and to make the market believe Linux was legally tainted when it was not. And had it been successful, it would have caused a lot of harm to human beings and businesses in the FOSS community, who have every right to compete in the marketplace without such harassment. So I have empathy for them even more so.

It's a bit like seeing an adult steal candy from a baby. If you saw that adult with a flat tire, you'd stop and help him. He's a fellow human in distress, after all. But when he grabs the baby's candy, you'll still step in, because it's wrong for a grownup to steal a baby's candy, just because he wants it and thinks he can get away with it.

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