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Mark Radcliffe and the rule of open-source law

Mark Radcliffe is finally getting some of the attention he deserves. Is it too much? I don't think so, and here's why.

Ashlee Vance over at The Register has a nice profile of Mark Radcliffe, partner at DLA Piper and one of the top legal minds in open source, if not the top legal mind. Mark is a friend and colleague at the Open Source Initiative, and deserves the attention.

Despite his influence over commercial open source, few know just how deeply involved he has been. The Register, however, captures his influence succinctly:

Radcliffe, an attorney at giant DLA Piper, has lurked behind some of the most important shifts in the open source world over the past few years. He helped Sun Microsystems open source the Solaris operating system, developing Sun's CDDL (Common Development and Distribution License) license. He crafted SugarCRM's controversial attribution license and then did similar work for a handful of significant open source players. This year, he teamed with SocialText to push the CPAL (Common Public Attribution License) through OSI (Open Source Initiative) approval, while at the same time advising the OSI as legal counsel. And Radcliffe worked with the Free Software Foundation on v3 of the General Public License (GPL).

If it has to do with open source and it affects your rights therein, Mark was probably at the fulcrum. Yes, he's that deeply involved.

It's a valid question, however, as to whether an attorney should have as much influence as Mark does. The short answer, of course, is yes: open source is at its heart a legal phenomenon, and so it requires great lawyers to ensure it stays honest and on track.

But Mark's involvement has stirred up some controversy:

Radcliffe's power in the open source world has not escaped controversy. For example, some of the open source world's most rabid vocal members went after his attribution licenses, which often require the display of a company's logo by users of a given product. More than a dozen open source players have crafted their own attribution licenses - a derivative of the Mozilla Public License (MPL) - outside of the OSI's official "open source" blessing. This influx of attribution licenses has prompted some to present horror scenarios of logos filling up your screen in a badgeware meltdown....

The OSI railed against these attribution licenses just before the organization approved the CPAL license in July. So, you find Radcliffe championing a license of his making, while advising the OSI on its merits at the same time.

I was involved in those deliberations, and Mark was always careful to balance the OSI's interests with his clients' interests. At no point did he overstep the bounds of propriety. At any time when he thought his dual role might conflict him, he recused himself. Mark has integrity.

He also knows which side his bread is buttered on, though I don't think he lets it affect his legal judgment. He groks that open source pays his bills, and that Microsoft has been its own worst enemy when it comes to open source:

All of Microsoft's FUD has ended up redounding against them because some of the things they have said have been so ludicrous that it has severely undercut their credibility in other areas.

This whole campaign about Linux violating Microsoft patents has been a big flop. From my point of view, there doesn't seem to have been a big shift of people going to SUSE Linux because they have this covenant not to sue.

I think that Microsoft has recognized that open source is here to stay. They can't simply make it go away by saying, 'It is not ready for prime time' or 'Nobody would base their business on it' because it's transparent that large companies like Google and some of the major banks are basing their company on it.

Indeed, and in large measure because of the foundational work Mark has done in the industry. The open-source community is fortunate to have Mark on its side.