The OSI receives many requests for legal advice related to licensing, tax-status, patents, organization, etc. The OSI nor its Board of Directors cannot offer legal advice, however the organization would like to help those struggling with legal issues and with limited resources to identify qualified assistance.

The OSI has developed the Legal Reference Resource to help individuals, open source communities, companies, organizations, etc. better understand the legal issues related to open source software development and distribution, and specifically identify qualified assistance.

Below is a set of questions that anyone looking for legal services can ask to assess the level of experience within open source and specific areas of interest. These questions should not be considered comprehensive or complete, and should serve as guidelines for novices to begin a discussion and foster understanding with attorneys.


  1. Have you worked with open source communities/projects previously? If so, can you provide a reference?
    Rationale: a qualified attorney will have experience within the open source community dealing with the unique issues relevant to open source development, distribution and management.
  2. Do you or your firm have some technical background in software development?
    Rationale: It's hard to understand this body of law in the abstract; if one doesn't understand (for example) what a "shared library" really is, or the basics of how computer programs are written, linked, loaded, and executed, it is easy to come to subtly mistaken legal conclusions.
  3. Can you describe pro bono work you have done in open source software or related fields?
    Rationale: All the good open source attorneys seem to care about the field intrinsically; an attorney who has done no related pro bono work is probably not that interested in the field, and also might have trouble understanding the motivations of some open source developers who might be, directly or indirectly, their client.
  4. Please disclose your affiliations, and relations relevant to your involvement in our project/questions.
    Rationale: You should be able to find out if there is a conflict of interest, or, where none is present, you can nevertheless make up your own mind in an informed way as to the reliance you will place on the opinions you get. If you are getting legal advice, this will become a non issue. But keep in mind that if you are not entering an attorney-client relationship, you cannot and should not rely on opinions the same way as if you are.
  5. Another...


Once the above questions have been reviewed, interested parties may email the OSI's open source attorney list [include list address here] to describe their project and needs. Those contacting the list should also include some or all of the above questions that are relevant to their needs.

Created by Administrator on 2014.10.27 at 08:53:42 PDT

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