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REVIEW: "Open Source Software Law", Rod Dixon

Rob Slade, doting grandpa of Ryan and Trevor
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"Open Source Software Law", Rod Dixon, 2004, 1-58053-719-7, C$139.50
%A Rod Dixon
%C 685 Canton St., Norwood, MA 02062
%D 2004
%G 1-58053-719-7
%I Artech House/Horizon
%O C$139.50 800-225-9977 fax: 617-769-6334 Removed)
%P 287 p. + CD-ROM
%T "Open Source Software Law"

Chapter one discusses the concept of open source software (and related
terms such as free software, freeware, and so forth), as well as
introducing some (though not all) of the major groups and players.
The text points out the difficulties of finding specific definitions
when dealing with a community and philosophy of this nature, and the
material is indicative and possibly useful, but even so the
explanations could be much clearer and less demanding of the reader.
The philosophies (and factions) of the open source community are
outlined in chapter two, as well as basic ideas such as copyleft.
There is further delineation of the reasons behind open source, which
does rather beg the question of why the topic wasn't dealt with better
in the first place. An interesting section is the analysis of the
purported "viral" effect of the General Public License (GPL), which
some fear will dilute developers' rights.

The issue of licensing, and the different types of licence models, is
reviewed in chapter three. The material is detailed and the subject
evaluated in depth, but, oddly, the chapter does not seem to clarify
the issue as much as, say, Brian Behlendorf's article in "Open
Sources" (cf. BKOPNSRC.RVW). After an initially intriguing
examination of the US "No Electronic Theft" act of 1997, and the
implications for extending property considerations to information,
chapter four turns into a meandering, and not altogether clear,
editorial on the issue. Chapter five looks at electronic contracts,
concentrating on E-Sign and UETA (Uniform Electronic Transaction Act)
(governing the validity of digital agreements, with UETA having
somewhat more consumer protection), and UCITA (Uniform Computer
Information Transaction Act), which extends the rights of developers
of software, including assumptions regarding contract formation.
"Commercial Models," in chapter six, revisits the licensing debate:
again, Behlendorf's article (noted above) seems to provide a superior
appraisal. Due to ill-defining "open standards" as a confused amalgam
of open source and open systems, Dixon's assessment of the impact on
public policy is flawed, but chapter seven is mercifully brief.
Chapter eight, as the third item on licensing, doesn't present many
new ideas.

While there are interesting and informative legal issues presented in
this work, a great deal of it is a standard, and somewhat pedestrian,
promotion of the open source movement. In addition, Dixon's writing
is frequently verbose, turgid, and lacking in clarity. Given the able
apologetics offered by "Open Sources" and "The Cathedral and the
Bazaar" (cf. BKCATBAZ.RVW), the need for such a work is questionable.

copyright Robert M. Slade, 2004 BKOSSWLW.RVW 20040527

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