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The Brief on Groklaw - page 2

The Scope of Groklaw

  • November 5, 2007
  • By Roy Schestowitz

Q: Looking ahead, which cases does Groklaw have its eyes on? Groklaw seems to be already engaged in covering the NetApp-Sun Microsystems case, but are there other cases that will consistently receive attention?

 

PJ: Obviously, patent cases are now stage front and center. But we also have an arrangement now where any lawyer can contact me and ask technical questions of our members. I mean any, by the way. Let's say he or she faced doing a deposition of a technical expert. Asking Groklaw for tips in advance can be helpful. It's an added resource.

Q: What would be your advice to firms that hold what they believe to be valuable intellectual assets that bring no revenue? Should these firms consider resorting to legal action? Does it matter if the legal case might invoke the wrath of open source development communities?

PJ: I don't give legal advice. But on your last question, I think it's not a question of the community's "wrath." It's a question of knowledge. If a company files a silly lawsuit, the community will recognize it for what it is.

What is so unique about IP and FOSS is that computers are a relatively recent thing. So is FOSS. So there are people still alive who remember very well the early days, the beginnings. That has implications for prior art searching, for example. It had implications in the SCO litigation, because when SCO made broad claims in the media, there were people saying, "That's not so. I was there. It was like this..."

That can make a significant difference legally.

Q: Groklaw's coverage of OpenXML/ODF affairs has become symbolic of the powers of collaboration in an Internet era. It showed that stories can explored at a level of detail that is overlooked or unexplored by traditional media. Do you think that journalism can be improved by pooling the knowledge of more people? How about reduced editorial control? Are the benefits outweighed by the danger of publicly exposing details that are too sensitive?

PJ: I do believe that people want more information than they get from the traditional media. Groklaw is Exhibit A for that proposition, and with no space constraints, why not give it to them? You don't have to have reduced editorial control just because a lot of people are contributing. The Linux kernel, for example, is like a pyramid, with Linus and Andrew Morton at the top of the point. Anyone can contribute, but nothing goes into the kernel ultimately unless they approve it, so there is a filtration system. Groklaw is the same.

And Groklaw isn't just journalism. That is part of it, but it's not all of it. I'm not trying to be the New York Times. It's a collaborative site, where we research together.

Legal research as a group does present questions of sensitivity. There are rules by the courts sometimes about confidentiality. I invariably abide by those rules. I can imagine, however, a circumstance where Groklaw might petition a court for more transparency, but it hasn't happened yet. But I know that being able to keep certain matters confidential in the legal process is very important. Here's why: anybody can sue anybody. They may not win, but they can start the process. Now, if all you had to do to spill everyone's private life and business matters in public was to sue them or be sued, no one would want to participate in the legal process, even if they had a legitimate complaint. It's vital that individuals and businesses be able to resolve disputes without all their private business secrets and personal matters being made public. So I respect those rights, just as I'd want my own privacy to be respected.

That's a difference between doing Groklaw and writing software. There aren't such privacy issues in software development.

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