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2020-11-30 - 23:54

The OSADL FOSS Legal Knowledge Database

What is the OSDAL FOSS Legal Knowledge Database?

The OSADL general business model is based on the principle that the community services and products OSADL provides need to be developed only once, but can be used by many. This principle does not only apply to the development of the source code of Free and Open Source software (FOSS), but also to all other aspects and especially the legal aspects that have to be considered when using FOSS in industry.

The OSADL FOSS Legal Knowledge Database is a collection of explanations on how to convey FOSS compliantly including many practical recommendations for handling FOSS in everyday's business. All answers and legal information provided are worked out in close collaboration with legal experts, especially with our General Counsel Dr. Till Jaeger (JBB Rechtsanwälte). Thanks to the many questions submitted by OSADL member companies the collection is continuously growing.

The OSADL FOSS Legal Knowledge Database consists of FAQ and Legal Assessments.

The OSADL Legal FAQ Collection

Every employee of an OSADL member company may submit legal questions to OSADL (officeªosadl.org). If the questions are of general interest, OSADL will cover the consulting fees and provide the questions and answers as FAQ on their website.

The process from question to FAQ starts with the question being anonymized and generalized. Then it is forwarded to OSADL's General Counsel, Dr. Till Jaeger, certified copyright and media law attorney, who answers the question. During the entire process, the FAQ text in progress is continuously coordinated with the original questioner. Finally, the question and answer are added to OSADL's FAQ collection on the website and all OSADL members are notified.

The OSADL Legal FAQ process:

Here are two selected examples of an OSADL legal FAQ:

Question (taken from FAQ category "General and Practical Aspects of Licensing and License Agreements")
Is it sufficient to specify a URL for the license text or does the complete license text have to be supplied to the customer? Is it otherwise useful to work with URLs in contracts?
Answer
Open Source licenses deal differently with the question if the license text has to be supplied with the product in paper form or as a file, or whether it is sufficient to specify a URL. Most licenses, like the GPL, require that the license text is supplied together with the product. The Landgericht München (Regional Court Munich) has explicitly deemed this as necessary in a judgment (http://www.ifross.de/Fremdartikel/LGMuenchenUrteil.pdf).
Also irrespective of the license terms requiring the inclusion of license texts in the product, the use of URLs is not recommended in contracts. Contracts are often created for long-term use, so that amendments to a URL can lead to a loss of relevant parts of the contract. In addition, the legal relevance of the URL is greatly reduced since it has to be proven which text was located under the URL at the time when the contract was concluded. This will often lead to practical problems as well as to easy manipulation.

Question (taken from FAQ category Derivative Work)
What is the impact of the copyleft of the GPL, if two independent software components (e.g. application and Linux kernel) are distributed together in a common file such as a zip archive file, .iso file, VM image file or an installation file for an embedded firmware?
Answer
Copyleft may also be relevant for completely independent programs, i.e. they must be licensed under the GPL altogether, if they are not distributed as separate works. This is particularly the case when the independent parts can no longer be separated easily so, in fact, a single work is created (e.g. in a single binary file). However, the GPL makes it also clear that the "mere aggregation" of independent software components on the same storage or distribution medium does not result in a situation where copyleft becomes effective. This normally applies to archive and image files provided they can be unpacked easily in such a way that the original independent files become available again.

In addition to the above presented legal FAQ section OSADL also has a (somewhat smaller) collection of technical FAQ. They deal, in particular with real-time Linux and long-term monitoring of embedded systems and every OSADL member is invited to ask questions on such topics as well.

The complete OSADL FAQ collection is available  here (member login required).

The OSADL Legal Assessments

If the topic of the question is too complex to be answered in the limited format of an OSADL FAQ, but is nevertheless of general interest, the question will be answered in form of a comprehensive legal assessment commissioned by OSADL.

Currently, the following legal assessments are available:

  • February 2009: Liability of a licensor of safety-critical Open Source software by Dr. Till Jaeger, JBB Rechtanwälte, Berlin and Prof. Axel Metzger, Chair of Civil Law and Intellectual Property Law, especially Industrial Property Law at Humboldt University, Berlin
  • September 2011: GPL assessment with reference to “Hypervisor” by Dr. Till Jaeger, JBB Rechtanwälte, Berlin
  • November 2018: License obligations under the LGPL-2.1 when used with proprietary third-party applications or libraries by Dr. Till Jaeger, JBB Rechtanwälte, Berlin
  • December 2018: Two assessments on the OIN License Agreement by Johanna Schwarz and colleagues at JBB Rechtanwälte, Berlin and Mishi Choudhary, Attorney at Law, Moglen & Associates, New York
  • December 2018: Redistribution of Linux distributions by Dr. Till Jaeger, JBB Rechtanwälte, Berlin
  • January 2019: Open Source software in the cloud by Dr. Till Jaeger, JBB Rechtanwälte, Berlin and Prof. Axel Metzger, Chair of Civil Law and Intellectual Property Law, especially Industrial Property Law at Humboldt University, Berlin


In addition to the legal assessments above, this section also includes information on results of OSADL legal seminars and transcripts of the discussion between legal and technical experts, e.g. seminar on "Aspects of licensing Open Source software in the context of safety and security certification".

The above OSADL Legal Assessements and information material of previous legal seminars are available   here (member login required)