[Chicago] to lawer or not Was: something unrelated

Ian Bicking ianb at colorstudy.com
Tue Jan 6 02:09:57 CET 2009

Carl Karsten wrote:
> Ian Bicking wrote:
>> Martin Maney wrote:
>>> On Sun, Jan 04, 2009 at 07:25:24PM -0600, Ian Bicking wrote:
>>>> Lawyers are bullshit.
>>> Not half as bullshit as asking a bunch of non-lawyers for legal advice,
>>> which I was trying to avoid saying in so many words.  <wink>
>>>> The ABSOLUTE WORST CASE is that the developers of Fabric will be
>>>> annoyed that you are using their code in a closed source system, and
>>>> they'll ask you to open your code or stop using Fabric.  If you are a
>>> Are you the copyright owner of Fabric?  I truly have no idea.  If you
>>> aren't, this is, yes, in line with the usual outcome, but it's also
>>> just so much hot air if you cannot speak for them.
>> It's in line with all past disputes about GPL violations.  I don't 
>> know of any exceptions, I pay attention to such cases, and there 
>> really aren't that many disputes total around the GPL.  Given 
>> consistency among *all* past experiences, it's reasonable to make 
>> predictions about future risks.
>> Also, I'm far more capable of predicting how a developer will respond 
>> than most lawyers.  Perhaps because lawyers give proper lawyerly 
>> advice, which means they have to cover their butts, and I'm giving 
>> free, without warrantee, disinterested (well, somewhat disinterested) 
>> advice based on reasonable predictions of risk.
> I am pretty sure you are breaking the law.  If you doubt me, I will find 
> some support for this.

Lawyers tell all kinds of stories.  I don't believe them.  Has someone 
at some time gotten in trouble for giving legal advice?  Probably.  If I 
was calling myself a lawyer would that be illegal?  Probably so too, 
though from what I can tell you really have to be over the top before 
something actually happens.

Also, I'm willing to assume the risk that Garrett will sue me.  I think 
he's the only one here who could.

Is it criminal to give legal advice?  That seems unlikely.  You can sue 
anyone for anything.  Can I get sued for giving legal advice?  Sure, I 
can get sued for anything.

> This does not mean I don't want to hear your opinion.  It helps me 
> decide how much I want to worry about these things.   I am using some 
> gpl code as part of a  BSDed project.  so far it is just a dependency, 
> but the upcoming python bindings haven't been done yet, and I may have 
> to patch/fork the code, which probably is not quite right, and I will 
> send a "do you care?" to the author, but I would think when he sees what 
> I am doing there won't be any problem.
> Reportlab won't use gpl code in it's code base, so I sent an email to 
> the author of the code asking if they would release it under whatever 
> reportlab folks wanted.  Some people suggest they are being over cautious.

If they have an intent to use the code in a proprietary manner, then 
sure they should care.  I think Reportlab actually does have that 
intention.  But getting stressed out about the GPL when considering 
sysadminish tasks, and at the point when you are just analyzing 
something, isn't worth it IMHO.  I'm worried some people have a 
knee-jerk reaction about the GPL that is based on unrealistic claims of 
its "viral" nature.

>>> I may have read too much into the OP's query - whether justified or
>>> not, I thought there might be commercial considerations involved
>>> (perhaps since he said he'd read the GPL, which so few bother to do).
>>> But I'm saddened to see you suggesting, apparently, that he should just
>>> do what he wants to and not worry about violating a license since it
>>> won't cost him much.  BTW, if he's invested a good deal of time and
>>> effort in setting things up using Fabric and has some compelling reason
>>> not to choose the "GPL everything" solution, then that cost could turn
>>> out not to be so small after all...
>> You *never* have to GPL everything in response to the GPL.  If you are 
>> distributing encumbered code to other people, you may have to 
>> disencumber it.  I suppose it's possible that the people receiving the 
>> code might actually force you to do so -- I haven't really heard of 
>> this, but that party would be more justified in asserting their rights 
>> than the Fabric license holders.  That party would probably be your 
>> paying customers, and so if you are giving them royalty-free rights to 
>> your code it wouldn't be a big deal anyway.
>>>> then you might also burn some social capital.  That's all you risk, 
>>>> and  if you ask the Fabric people up front how they interpret the 
>>>> GPL then  you don't even risk that.  Any other prediction is simply 
>>>> false.
>>> That's a good point - a clear statement of how the copyright holders
>>> interpret the specific application would be a fine idea.  A good lawyer
>>> might have suggested this.
>> I've gotten weird pushback from lawyers that statements of my intent 
>> aren't meaningful compared the license itself (despite the LGPL and 
>> GPL often being unclear anyway).  I read this as bullshit, and it's 
>> made me wary of lawyers as good predictors of legal issues.  (If you 
>> ask me about my licensing, and I say I'm not going to sue you, what 
>> more do you need?)
> If I cared enough to ask, I would care enough to get it in writing. and 
> it would be a waste of time if the writing wasn't something I felt was 
> properly written, which I am not qualified to gauge, so I would hire 
> someone who was.

Email is writing, this was all email.  It's a statement.  Statements 
matter, you can use them in court, you don't have to have them notarized 
first.  It's not plausible that I'm going to deny writing the email, and 
its language was unambiguous.  But the overhead of involving a lawyer 
kills progress regardless of how easily the issues can be resolved.

>>>> Lawyers probably won't tell you this, which is why you shouldn't ask 
>>>> a  lawyer.
>>> Well, Sturgeon's Law, sure.  I guess it can be hard to find a *good*
>>> lawyer.  :-/
>> Which is why I think "ask a lawyer" is mostly stop energy, not really 
>> constructive.  It's just not going to happen, or if it does then the 
>> lawyer will just add more stop energy.  The law is *our* law, it 
>> doesn't belong to lawyers, and people shouldn't have to constantly 
>> defer to professionals.
> Um... I own my pipes and the tree, but when the two conspire against me 
> I call a professional.   Joe plumber owns a computer.  If Joe wants a 
> program written, shouldn't he defer to a professional?

Maybe.  But if he doesn't, more power to him.  I certainly wouldn't stop 
him.  I am also entirely opposed to the idea of programming being a 
certified profession like engineering.

Ian Bicking : ianb at colorstudy.com : http://blog.ianbicking.org

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