Thursday, April 13, 2006

Kowari's Legal Status

One positive outcome of Kowari's ownership and control scuffle has been the number of companies, some large, who have come out of the woodwork in support of the project. And they have lawyers.

The Kowari community has been assured that corporate lawyers, including some who were involved with the writing of the Mozilla Public License version 1.1, have reviewed the situation and that Kowari is safely and in perpetuity an Open Source project. That is, Northrop Grumman Corporation may not stop a fork of the code should that become necessary. That is reassuring news for the development team and should also help to reassure Kowari's user base.

Hopefully, Northrop will take steps shortly to make good on their promises of openness so that a fork can be avoided.

Although I am not under NDA with most of these companies, I will refrain from naming names except in one case. I was contacted (via a mutual colleague) by Eben Moglen, the patriarch if not the father of Open Source law, while in Australia a couple of weeks ago. His offer to help resolve the situation added substantial comfort. Although nobody wants a fight over Kowari's intellectual property rights, it is clear that the Open Source community is on firm legal ground.

The one murky issue is Kowari's trademark. Northrop owns it and the MPL v1.1 explicitly excludes trademarks from the license. Since Northrop has not, and most probably will not, license the use of the trademark to the Open Source community, one has to assume that we cannot use it. That means that we can build projects or products with Kowari, but we can't claim it in an advertising sense. The only references would be in required legal documentation and in the package names. That issue alone may force a fork to occur, since branding is important to Open Source developers too.

I should mention that I have still not had direct dealings with Kowari since resigning in January, although I hope that can change in the near future. If Northrop plays ball, so will I. If the project forks, I will follow the fork.

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