Legal Aid: The Open Source Way

I should think most of the OSS community knows of Groklaw to some extent. But I wonder how much we really know about the achievements and character of the people behind it?

After coming across this interview with PJ today, and being a big fan, I thought it deserved a little more coverage. (Can somebody tell me why, the fact this is on ITPro, strikes me as a bit odd?)

IT PRO spoke to the site’s founder, Pamela Jones about the impact of the site, the SCO case and the role Groklaw has played in the ongoing legal case.

The SCO Group’s current fate can be neatly summarised by the title of PJ’s very first article on the case, back in May 2003 – “SCO Falls Downstairs, Hitting its Head on Every Step.” In the intervening years PJ and Groklaw can be credited with unearthing and exposing many of the flaws in SCO’s case, most notably, obtaining and publishing the 1994 settlement in the USL vs BSDi case, which had been hidden from public view and played a significant role in undermining SCO’s claims to the ownership of Unix. Earlier this year PJ memorably compared SCO’s persistence in the face of the facts to the black knight in the Monty Python film who claimed “It’s only a flesh wound”.

It’s a great read, and Groklaw must be one of the few websites (it’s more than a blog) that really has, and continues to, “make a difference”. As for PJ and where she [and Groklaw] goes next, there was a fascinating conclusion:

As usual, I’m not doing a lot of planning. When I see an issue, we leap in, like the new litigation against Red Hat and Novell. We’re doing prior article searching, and so far, it’s looking very good. We did prior article searching on the NetApp v Sun litigation too. We’ll probably do more of that. And any lawyer who wants to pick the technically skilled Groklaw members’ brains is free to contact me.

We’ve had lawyers ask technical questions in preparation for depositions, for example. It’s a resource that is available.

“… it’s looking very good.”. Hmmm, I guess with the many thousands of eyes (both technical and legal) searching, keen to promote, protect and support the Open Source Community, it will only be a matter of time before someone stumbles over some prior art.

The power of many eyes versus many dollars…

After reading it, I was struck by some of the things PJ said and how, in the UK’s legal sense at least, Groklaw is basically providing a free service to Open Source just like our own Legal Aid system here. And, rather fascinatingly, is also using an Open Source, community & collaborative, based model to provide it. A lovely recursive theme there much loved by some of the older Open Source projects, e.g. GNU: Gnu’s Not Unix, Wine: Wine Is Not an Emulator, PHP: PHP Hypertext Processor.

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