Open-sourcing legal documents

We could save ourselves a lot of time and money by open-sourcing the legal documents that open-source vendors use.

In the wake of Google's attempted intellectual property landgrab (and subsequent about face), ReadWriteWeb suggests that a new "terms of service regime" is needed for online applications like Google.

I agree, but also think we can go one step further and "open source" legal documents.

The idea is not actually mine. John Robb, vice president of marketing and product management at Zimbra, suggested the idea to me after reading about Y Combinator's idea to offer standardized venture funding documents.

It's a great idea, one that we'll be exploring further at OSBC 2009. There's little reason for similarly situated start-ups to each be paying law firms to recycle the same documents. Sure, it provides job security for first-year law students, but I'd rather be spending my law firm retainer on value-added services, not a logo change on the contract the firm uses for all of its clients.

Using a myriad of ostensibly different legal documents also creates unnecessary work for in-house counsel at would-be buyers. It would be much better to simply have the industry standardize on subscription/license agreements, nondisclosure agreements, etc., and then stand firm on terms. It becomes easier to stand firm, of course, if you know that the weight of industry standards is behind you.

Robb is onto something here. We should open-source legal documents. The expertise to back them up can't easily be commoditized, but documents like confidentiality agreements absolutely can. Forget profileration of open-source licenses. The real problem is proprietary license/document proliferation. Let's fix that.

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About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.

     

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