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Subject: Re: Legal issues, names, privacy, and pseudonyms
From: Nix (nix_at_esperi.org.uk)
Date: 2004-06-21


On Wed, 9 Jun 2004, Björn Stenberg said:
> Fred Maxwell wrote:
>> I am a strong advocate of privacy and have to side with Bluechip on this
>> one. Suppose, for instance, that Bluechip holds a job with the RIAA.
>
> Yes, let's suppose an anonymous contributor was holding a job as a
> programmer at RIAA, writing DRM code for portable audio
> players. Suppose then some lawyer at RIAA finds out he has been
> contributing code to Rockbox, a "contraband" player firmware that
> allows people to listen to shared music without DRM
> restrictions. Suppose RIAA has one of those mandatory signoffs that
> say all code you write is the property of your employer. RIAA then has
> valid legal claims to core Rockbox code...
>
> I don't want to have to think about scenarios like that. There is no
> way to make us immune to it, but one way to reduce the risk is to have
> It is well established
> that anonymity breeds irresponsibility, and lawyers know it too.

I can't see any connection between these paragraphs. The risk in the
first paragraph is true *whether or not* you know contributors' names,
and I can't see how knowing their names will go a millimetre towards
ameliorating it. A name can be a pseudonym even if it `looks real',
and even pseudonymous entities can be sued (and are, regularly).

The only way to fix this problem that I know of is to require signed
employer disclaimers of rights, just as the GNU project does for
FSF-owned works (indeed, this is *why* the GNU project requires those
otherwise-annoying disclaimers). Otherwise, the employer can all too
often point to the contract of employment and say `that code is *ours*,
take it out now'; it tends to go downhill from there.

(Note that even then you're trusting the contributor to inform you
when he changes job. There's no way around that.)

This necessarily slows down development because before the disclaimer is
signed by a given contributor's employer, contributions from that
contributor are stuck in limbo :( but it makes you a bit more legally
bulletproof.

(Of course, I am not a lawyer: but this is based on discussions with
people who are.)

> It is well established
> that anonymity breeds irresponsibility, and lawyers know it too.

Now *that* is hogwash of the first water, sorry. Lawyers are quite
comfortable representing people known by aliases, and no taint of guilt
attaches to that. (A *court* may need to know your real name, but note
that legal names can be changed: the distinction betweeen `alias' and
`real name' is blurry.)

-- 
`We in no way believe that this Christ was a space alien.'
                    --- A creationist website goes completely bonkers
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