Bricklin on DVD: Good software copyright primer for enterprises

Summary:Normally, when PC-industry pioneer Dan Bricklin comes out with a new product, you can download it or get it on a CD.  Not this time.

Normally, when PC-industry pioneer Dan Bricklin comes out with a new product, you can download it or get it on a CD.  Not this time.  Instead of publishing some new innovative software (as we're so accustomed to seeing him do), he has published a video of himself discussing basics of software licensing -- one that spends a considerable amount of time on open source. The title of the video is A Developer's Introduction to Copyright and Open Source. 

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Though the DVD makes for a great icebreaker for developers who've had limited exposure to the world of software licensing and copyright, even those who think they're well steeped in all aspects of open source might learn a thing or two from the specific examples Bricklin provides. For example, how some of the academic licenses (eg: the MIT license) are far less restrictive than the Free Software Foundation's GNU General Public License and what that means to licensees or licensors.  Or, how developers (including Linus Torvalds with Linux) sometimes include additional disclosures with their code in order to provide certain licensing clarity that might otherwise not be conveyed through the chosen license's fixed terms.  To the extent that Bricklin also covers the concepts of derivative works, fair use, the netherworld of ideas vs. idea expression, and the ability of anyone or any company to, separate from some source code's open source license, negotiate their own custom terms with a copyright holder, the DVD really makes it clear that by paying little or no attention to the many nuances of software licensing and copyright law, IT managers and developers could be unnecessarily exposing their companies to some potentially damaging legal risks. 

Some open source experts who think they know it all may find the video to be too rudimentary.  But, when I got done watching the video, I felt like it was like any other training video that your human resources department might ask you to watch.  For example, the ones about sexual harassment.  Many people already know the do's and don'ts of sexual harassment and probably feel as though they don't need to be subjected to an annual refresher course.  But, every time I sit through one of those, it's a real clear reminder of what the company will and won't tolerate and why it's so important to minimize the company's exposure to risk while at the same time, respecting the rights of others.   Since  the copyrights of others must also be respected (and knowing what could happen if they're not), an annual display of Bricklin's DVD serves in two capacities.  First, it's a primer to those who need to learn more about software copyright and licensing.  Second, it's a reminder that the company takes copyrights very seriously and that their are certain policies and guidelines when it comes to software development and usage that employees should not lose sight of. 

Compared to the damages that might be incurred by an inadvertent copyright infringement (or the consumption of business and legal resources in order to avoid those damages after the infringement took place),  the DVD's $695 pricetag is peanuts.  According to Bricklin's Web site which includes trailers and information on how the DVD can be acquired, the DVD can be replayed in corporate training sessions or by professional service outfits to their clients, but it cannot be displayed in public or online.  The production quality is very good and, at the end, Bricklin even provides information on what products he used to setup his one-man studio.

Topics: Legal

About

David Berlind was fomerly the executive editor of ZDNet. David holds a BBA in Computer Information Systems. Prior to becoming a tech journalist in 1991, David was an IT manager.

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