Worst Case Scenarios - SPI and Lawsuits

Rourk, Chris crourk at AKINGUMP.COM
Fri Jan 11 15:57:00 UTC 2002

> Ok. But what if that non-profit gets sued (say as a result of 
> some large
> corporation's dislike of certain multimedia software on 
> http.us.debian.org
> or a dangerous cult group with a vendetta and a friendly judge) and a
> judgement gets entered for some huge amount of money. Since 
> the domains are
> the non-profit's only asset, wouldn't they get sold at a 
> bankrupcy auction?
> We haven't solved the problem, but rather just moved it...

It depends on who is being sued.  If non-profit 1 is doing the bad stuff, and non-profit 2 owns the domain names and licenses them to non-profit 1, then non-profit 2 is not at risk, unless it was involved with the bad stuff.  Put another way, if I own a domain name and license it to you, and you decide to slander someone on the website that the domain name points to, I can't be sued for that unless I asked you to slander them, or made slandering them a condition of use for the domain name.

I would also recommend avoiding doing stuff that will get you sued.  SPI and Debian have more important things to do than be a test case for a dispute over intellectual property rights.  I'd like to see Linux put a serious hurt on Microsoft, among other things.  If you are aware of anything that is going to cause a large company heartburn, let me know so we can decide whether it might result in the kind of lawsuit that SPI wants to avoid.  

For example, Linux no doubt is a major concern to Microsoft, but doing Linux in general is safe unless you start incorporating something that Microsoft has a patent on.  I don't recommend doing a patent clearance search on Linux, but if you are aware of something significant, let me know.  We all know that the copyright owners of audiovisual content are very concerned about their ability to protect their assets - I would recommend that SPI/Debian have stated policies that do not cause those
copyright owners concern.  For example (and I do mean example, I am not trying to characterize anyone's views on the matter), a policy that says it should be okay to use DVD technology as long as patent or copyright rights are not being infringed or violated is not going to alarm them, whereas a policy that says that DVD patent rights and audiovisual content copyrights are morally wrong and that we have a duty to infringe and violate them is certain to draw their attention and fire.  Although
SPI has the following corporate goals:

To create, form and establish an organization to formulate and provide software systems for use by the general public without charge; 
to teach and train individuals regarding the use and application of such systems; 
to hold classes, seminars and workshops concerning the proper use and application of computers and computer systems; 
to endeavor to monitor and improve the quality of currently existing publicly available software; 
to support, educate and promote the creation and development of software available to the general public; 
to provide information and education regarding the proper use of the Internet; 
to organize, hold and conduct meetings, discussions, and forums on contemporary issues concerning the use of computers and computer software; 
to foster, promote and increase access to software systems available to the general public; 
to solicit, collect and otherwise raise money and to expend such funds in furtherance of the goals and activities of the corporation; 
to aid, assist, cooperate, co-sponsor and otherwise engage in concerted action with private, educational and governmental organizations and associations on all issues and matters concerning the use of computers and computer software; 
and generally 
to endeavor to promote, foster and advance interest in computers and computer software by all available means and methods. 

I believe that we should make certain that the positions SPI advocates allow it to pursue those goals and avoid disputes that will endanger the existence of SPI, even if being involved in such a dispute might further one or more of these goals.  

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