Tuesday, 14 July 2009

IFOSSLR – International Free & Open Source Software Law Review – new online legal journal

The first issue of the interestingly pronounced IFOSSLR has just been published.

Scope of coverage

As the title suggests, this new peer-reviewed biannual journal will focus on analysis and comment on all aspects of legal issues affecting Free and Open Source software (FOSS). To quote from the site, it is:

“a collaborative legal publication aiming to increase knowledge and understanding among lawyers about Free and Open Source Software issues. Topics covered include copyright, licence implementation, licence interpretation, software patents, open standards, case law and statutory changes.”

Who’s behind it?

With support from the NLnet Foundation and Mozilla Foundation, it’s published under the auspices of the European Legal Network of Free Software legal experts by an illustrious editorial committee of technology lawyers (such as Amanda Brock from Canonical, who sponsor the Linux distro Ubuntu) - including some who’ve previously worked as programmers / computer scientists.

Format

The format is fairly typical of law journals, with editorial, articles, legislation reviews, case reports, book reviews, “platform” (a kind of soapbox it seems).

And there’s also a “Tech Watch” section “to allow technical experts and organisational leaders in Free and Open Source Software to introduce and explain topical issues with important legal aspects” (i.e.usually non-lawyers).

Like the software that it covers, this journal is free to read and use; it says it’s open access.

The content I won’t need to comment on as it speaks for itself – it’s by authoritative writers, it’s free, go read it!

Site and licensing

The site itself is beautifully produced (it uses Open Journal Systems), with accessibility icons and a lightning fast search engine. And yes there’s indexing metadata and embedded RDF so you can easily save article citation info e.g. to Zotero. (Though ironically, when logged in to the site I get some PHP errors for these pages in the open source Chrome browser.)

Oddly enough, although the launch press release mentions that “IFOSSLR will be available printed and on-line under a licence allowing it to be freely reproduced by individuals and organisations, commercial and non-commercial alike, provided that the content and authorship of the articles is respected”, and individual works display a Creative Commons licence (England and Wales 2.0: no derivative works, attribution, CC-BY-ND), I can’t see any note in their submissions guidelines highlighting the copyright licence terms to intending authors and getting them to agree in the submission preparation checklist that their work is to be made available on those terms.

Maybe they assume that anyone who wants to write for them would know and agree to CC licensing, but personally I’d add a line about that to the checklist (typical lawyer, I know!)

There are some tiny issues with the site apart from the PHP error I mentioned above, e.g. a recursive link in the submission checklist. And for myself I’d add a favicon, though granted “IFOSSLR” is a bit difficult to fit into 16x16 pixels! I’d also get rid of the pretty intermediate page (picture of journal front cover) that appears when you click to view an issue, and instead take readers straight to the contents page.

Verdict

But never mind extremely minor site teething issues, which I’m sure will be sorted out - this journal is an excellent addition to the field (for those who don’t know it see also the open access SCRIPTed journal), and making it open access is even better.

There’s no deadline mentioned for submissions for the next issue, but although it’s published only twice a year it’s not too early for would-be writers to get cracking.

(Also, for those interested in FOSS, there's a podcast Open Source Software – Corporate Boon or Burden? - 28 May 2009 you might want to check out, on "the legal issues which arise from corporate use of OSS and the practical responses to those issues which are achievable through OSS risk management techniques to aim to maximise the opportunities present in OSS for the corporate user.") Edit: transcript and slides now available.

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