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Re: Worst Case Scenarios - SPI and Lawsuits

I think any potentail legal probem would be manageable. I'm just a law
student, and there aren't any suits filed against us, or even
threatened. Nevertheless, I'm confident that we could overcome problems
with lawsuits.

All courts vigorously enforce rules against filing lawsuits that have
no basis in the law. Sometimes these lawsuits are called "frivolous."
Although we hear stories in the media about curiously themed lawsuits,
those media reports often contain errors and half-truths. There has to
be some legal justification for a lawsuit. Of course, a particular law
that justifies litigation is sometimes questionable itself, as in the
case of the DMCA.

There are many strategies that we can take. First, we can call on the
community for help. Not only can community members help with financial
donations, but they can also create public pressure that will be
invaluable. It is often cheaper and more effective to fight a legal
battle in the news media than in the courts. 

Second, if we get sued we can bring other parties into the lawsuit. In
particular, we can bring in entities that have money and might have
violated the same law or copyright we have. For example, corporations
like IBM or HP might have violated the same law, or hold an interest
that is at stake in the lawsuit. It's conceivable that in many
circumstances they will have to join in the defense against such a

Third, even if we stand alone there are many lawyers who will give
their time in the form of pro bono service. Pro bono means no legal

Fourth, although we are only speculating here, we could possibly sue
the party that is suing us. That is, we could file a counterclaim.
There would have to be some legal basis for such a suit, of course.

We should be consulting with a competent lawyer, or lawyers, when legal
issues are unclear and potentially important. That will avoid most of
the potential problems.

Andrew Hagen

On Sun, 3 Jun 2001 16:22:50 -0400, Brian Ristuccia wrote:

>During the conference call the Debian CSS group had with the EFF regarding
>Debian's ability to distribute CSS, a number of very important points came
>up with regard to SPI's vunerability and resilliance to lawsuits.
>1. SPI can't afford to defend even frivilous lawsuits without community
>   support.
>2. If SPI doesn't defend a lawsuit, it will probably lose by default. 
>3. SPI doesn't have the assets to offset even a very small adverse
>   judgement during an unsuccessful lawsuit.
>4. If a judgement exceeds SPI's total worth (very likely), SPI will be
>   forced into bankrupcy. 
>5. SPI's copyrights, trademarks, patents, and domain names are subject to
>   reassignment during a bankrupcy auction.
>6. In the event that copyrights are reassigned, there's no current case law
>   that indicates for certain if the new copyright holder can revoke prior
>   Free Software style license grants. Even if they couldn't revoke the
>   licenses, they could still claim to do so in order to hassle the old
>   licensees with DMCA infringement notices, etc.
>Now here's the sad conclusion I've come to after a few days of thinking:
>1. SPI, in its current state, probably will not survive even a frivilous
>   lawsuit. 
>2. People launch frivilous lawsuits all the time, even without provocation.
>3. SPI, even if it is involved only with non-contraversial projects that
>   tiptoe around the law and potential lawsuit initiators, can not survive
>   forever.
>4. People who depend on SPI's copyrights, trademarks, patents (if any), and
>   domain names are probably screwed should SPI go bankrupt.
>Some very important steps need to be taken to ensure that SPI's copyrights,
>trademarks, patents, and domain names are not reassigned to hostile third
>parties in the event it is forced into bankrupcy. SPI holds the compilation
>copyright on Debian, its domain names including debian.org, and a number of
>other copyrights on miscellaneous parts of Debian and other Free Software
>I've come up with a few potential ways to deal with the copyright issue, but
>domains and trademarks are still up in the air. My knowledge of the law is
>very limited, so SPI really needs to talk to a competent lawyer - and soon. 
>Brian Ristuccia
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