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Insurance firm to offer open-source seminars

Open Source Risk Management hopes to educate companies on legal issues of using or contributing to Linux and similarly shared software.

Open Source Risk Management, a company hoping to profit from intensifying legal scrutiny of Linux and other open-source programs, will take a first step in its plan with a $495 seminar series, the company said Wednesday.

The daily seminars aimed to fill educational gaps for companies that use or contribute to open-source programming projects, said John St. Clair, OSRM's executive director. The seminars, which will be held in 20 cities, beginning in Santa Clara, Calif., on April 27, will align with requirements for specific practices among companies it insures, he said.

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"This is something that clients of the insurance will need to demonstrate at a core level," St. Clair said, referring to practices such as understanding open-source licenses and reviewing open-source code that's distributed or released. "Just because you have insurance doesn't mean you can operate in a reckless manner."

OSRM debuted two weeks ago, but its plan to insure companies against legal risks of open-source software won't start until May or June, St. Clair said.

Legal attention to Linux and open-source software has expanded with the attack on Linux, initiated by the SCO Group, which bought a disputed amount of Unix intellectual property in 2001.

SCO argues that Linux infringes its Unix copyrights and has sued IBM, AutoZone and DaimlerChrysler in the matter. It has also considered legal action against the Bank of America. Novell, an earlier Unix owner, argues that it still owns the Unix copyrights, a dispute that's also the subject of SCO litigation.

The legal action hasn't fazed many in the Linux realm, though, including founder Linus Torvalds. It has, however, triggered some legal protections for Linux users from Novell, Red Hat, Hewlett-Packard and the Open Source Development Labs consortium.

It has also led OSRM to scrutinize Linux and Unix software licensing. As part of its effort to compile information on Linux and Unix licenses and code, OSRM employs Pamela Jones, who separately runs the Groklaw Web site, which chronicles the SCO legal cases.

OSRM's approach is "unique...It's like writing out insurance policies to the beachgoers a few days before the hurricane hits," SCO spokesman Blake Stowell said.

"The insurance industry thrives, because they get people thinking about risk," Stowell added. "SCO doesn't believe that all open-source products present users with risk, but we've certainly identified one big one."