What legal liability might a software programmer volunteering in an open source project be held to? 6 Answers as of April 05, 2013

The project(s) would fall under common licensing such as the Lesser General Public License, General Public License, etc. Would it differ if they were the creator verses just a contributor? I am considering becoming a contributor to an open source project, and perhaps releasing small projects of my own, to gain experience for my resume. I am concerned about what I could be sued for and how it could be prevented or negated. I would of course have no malicious intent or copy/paste source code from any other source and claim it to be my own.a

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Barton Barton & Plotkin
Barton Barton & Plotkin | Maurice Ross
Participation as a contributor to open source projects is a dangerous business because you may be contributing to projects that purport to be "open source" but in fact, infringe third party patents. The open source movement is a trap for the unwary, because a lot of the software that is labeled "open source" may not be open source, and may be infringing third party patent rights. I regularly advise clients who work in this space. Each project that you undertake should be carefully reviewed with legal counselmost software developers have their IP counsel on speed dial. And if you cannot afford to retain legal counsel to guide you, frankly you should stay away from this project. This web-site cannot and should not be used as a substitute for retaining legal counsel. It is intended to match lawyers and clients, but no lawyer who participates is giving legal advice on which you should comfortably rely. Also, please do not think you are smart enough to figure all of this out without retaining counsel. Many brilliant software developers are incapable of understanding basic legal concepts-software development tends to be logical, mathematical and precise, but the law is round, creative and deals with loose concepts of fairness and justice. Unfortunately, I too often am called to get software developers out of trouble after they arrogantly thought they were smarter than the lawyers and failed retain legal counsel to review their development projects.
Answer Applies to: New York
Replied: 4/5/2013
Mark S. Hubert PC
Mark S. Hubert PC | Mark Hubert
I don't see where the liability could come from. If you are worried about being sued for patent or copyright infringement then it is a non issue if you don't make, use, sell, distribute or import a patented software program or copy that of another's software. Just contributing to its development does not give rise to any liability. However if you accidentally copy a portion of another's software that is not designated as open source, and incorporated it into you own software you are developing then you are looking at a problem. Under patent law they would not likely sue you because there are no damages but if it is federally registered as a copyright then they may come after you for statutory damages and attorney's fees.
Answer Applies to: Oregon
Replied: 4/5/2013
Law Office of Kirk Buhler
Law Office of Kirk Buhler | Kirk A Buhler
Generally, if a company or individual believes that there is infringement they will sue the employer because the programmer has limited money. That does not stop liability. As long as you are creating the software without using part of code from others you are fairly safe from copying the software. The end function can be covered under a process patent were the end result is protected regardless of the code to achieve the end result. Lack of malicious intent is not a defense, but malicious intent can increase a damage award. If a party fees that you are infringing they can still file a law suit regardless of their chances of winning.
Answer Applies to: California
Replied: 4/5/2013
Law Office of Mathew R. P. Perrone, Jr. | Mathew Roy Patrick Perrone, Jr.
I am not qualified to answer that question.
Answer Applies to: Illinois
Replied: 4/5/2013
Webb IP Law Group
Webb IP Law Group | Jason P Webb
I would make sure not to copy anything and stop participation if I discovered someone else was copying.
Answer Applies to: Utah
Replied: 4/5/2013
    Tran & Associates | Bao Tran
    It is the user of the code that would be liable for any patent infringement issues. As long as you are the author of the code (did not copy), you should not have any copyright problem. You should get patent application as soon as you can to prevent others from copying you. This is important as we move into the First to File era.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 4/5/2013
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