Compliance Lab: Trip to Korea
Oftentimes, the work we do at the Compliance Lab that gets the most attention revolves around the violations we address. That's easier to see, and it's more exciting for other people to talk about--all the news about our recent case against Cisco is a good example of this. However, the work we do to educate people about the licenses and help them comply is just as important, if not more so: it prevents violations from occurring in the first place, instead of addressing them after the fact.
In April I attended a conference about free software licensing issues in South Korea, organized by the Korea Software Copyright Committee (SOCOP). This government agency was originally created to help settle licensing disputes between proprietary software vendors and South Korean industry. However, as more of the companies there have started relying on free software for their business, using it in a wide and growing variety of different devices, SOCOP has begun working to help these companies understand and comply with free software licenses as well.
To be honest, as I prepared my presentation for the conference, I wasn't completely sure what to expect. Based on the organizers' recommendations, I gave a short speech about how our licenses work on a fundamental level--explaining how they all provide a common set of permissions to share and modify the software, and only have different sets of conditions for these activities.
However, when I started fielding questions about our licenses later in the day, I started to wonder whether that speech was too simple. These questions were not the kinds of questions that people ask when they're just starting to learn about the GPL and other free software licenses. Instead they were questions that clearly showed that the askers had a good understanding of the licenses, and were trying to figure out how the terms applied to their specific situations.
SOCOP itself is already doing a lot to help South Korean companies comply with free software licenses too. This was the first conference they've organized on this subject, and it was very productive and well-run. They are also working to roll out a free software portal where companies can learn about what free software can meet their needs, what licensing terms apply to it, and get together to discuss best practices for compliance.
We want to help SOCOP--and other organizations around the world doing similar work--help the companies it talks to. To do that, we plan to start building a compliance network to share information between these groups--learning about what compliance issues companies are struggling with, and helping them develop best practices to handle them. The whole community will benefit from this work: companies won't have to spend time fixing violations after the fact, users will get more free software and hear about their rights to share and change it, and developers will have easier access to the changes these companies are making. It's a win-win situation for everybody, and the Compliance Lab is in a unique position to help see it through.