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Re: MP3 decoder packaged with XMMS

On 7/12/05, Dan Ravicher <ravicher@softwarefreedom.org> wrote:
> > Absolutely, and I wouldn't expect otherwise. However there are
> > not-for-profit groups of developers working in this area.
> > http://xiph.org/ is one, http://linuxaudio.org/ is another (of which
> > both 64 Studio and Xiph are members).
> Please feel free to pass along my contact info and encourage them to
> call or write anytime they have any legal issues on which they'd like
> some help.  That's our mission and we're here to do it.

It's very interesting to see this statement crop up over the by-line
of the legal director of the Software Freedom Law Center.  For those
who haven't been watching carefully, that's the OSDL-funded entity,
created in February 2005, ostensibly founded to provide legal cover
for certain former pro bono clients of Eben Moglen's (principally the
FSF and the Samba project).  So the SFLC has no history to speak of;
but Mr. Ravicher does.  (Needless to say, so do the other usual
suspects listed on the SFLC's board and executive team.)

Mr. Ravicher's public statements on legal matters appear to be largely
conformable to the law as I understand it (IANAL), with the exception
of his repetition of the canard that it is the knowledge of the
particular patent number infringed by a product that puts you at risk
of triple damages.  In reality, willful ignorance is no more and no
less willful than looking up the patent numbers on the packaging and
assessing the scope of patent claims yourself.  But note that, like
certain other, more senior, FSF associates, he has his own clever way
of turning FUD about IP law into revenues.  Read more at
and http://www.forbes.com/home/enterprisetech/2004/08/02/cz_dl_0802linux.html

Even so, Mr. Ravicher appears to be on the saner end of the range of
FSF associates.  He seems actually to have been in a courtroom in his
capacity as an attorney (though apparently never as lead counsel), and
has at least three small victories to report (on pubpat.org, using
research apparently supplied by M-CAM) in the administrative arena of
the USPTO.  I question his use of statistics regarding such disputes,
however.  And even though these three patents appear to have been
chosen as low-hanging fruit, in two out of three cases it remains to
be seen whether the patentees will submit revised claims and obtain
reissuance of their patents.  "Office actions" of the kind issued in
the Lipitor and FAT-long-filenames patents are frequently issued in
the course of establishing what claims the patent examiner will allow
on the basis of a given disclosure, and narrower claims often succeed.

If I were you I would be very, very cautious about inviting the SFLC
to hang its first test case on my project.  I speak as someone with no
legal qualifications but with a certain amount of research under my
belt, including an eventually successful (after repeated office
actions) patent filing (whose economic rights I do not now own) that
certain uses of software in Debian probably infringes.  IANAL, TINLA,

- Michael

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