James Governor's Monkchips

I, for one, Welcome My New Legal Overlords

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Standards Law サ Blog Archive サ My Welcome to the Blogosphere

With apologies to Kent Brockman, I just wanted to say I am ALL IN FAVOUR of blogs by corporate legal eagles.

These people are a very important part of the conversation.

If Microsoft is a legal department travelling as a software business (a Doc Searl’s gag that I am sure has been applied to IBM in its time – no slouch in the scads of corporate legal department stakes), then I want to engage with these people.

I have a good relationship with Microsoft lead legal counsel in Europe, Horacio Gutierrez, even though we have some pretty fundamental disagreements – sometimes in public. He is a good guy and he makes me think though. How come Nokia is allowed to put Kodak out of business by sticking a camera in every phone, but Microsoft can’t include a music player in an operating system? Not everyone is an analyst however, lucky enough to get exposure to people like Horacio.

Blogs though can help this kind of conversation and engagement scale, and so again i applaud lawyers joining the chat. I was pleased to see that in the same week Microsoft announced its OSP covenant not to sue Web Services implementers, that a new Microsoft legal blog had launched. And its about Standards Law – one of the most important issues in our business. See Groklaw.

So hello David Rudin, standards attorney with Microsoft. Never mind Dana – he gets a bit antsy every now and then, but its not as if he doesn’t give you some props for the OSP.

I would much rather be engaged with the lawyers than have them doing deals in backrooms. Sunshine is the best disinfectant, and standards and intellectual  property law is traditionally in need of bleach. I know that most legal contracts I see in this business leave me feeling dirty.

David isn’t alone though. Sun led the way here-as it does so often in the use of social software, when General Counsel, Mike Dillon, started a blog. He talks about political lobbying, but more important check out his awesome narwhal pics. Nice humour too- Edison’s bad ear indeed – that’s what great innovators have.

I am never going to be a lawyer (sorry Mom) but I think its important to engage.

At Java One a few years back I stood in front of 13,000 people and said why I didn’t think Java needed to be open sourced. One reason was I feared chilling effects around Linux usage and the GPL – OK, I called it wrong in terms of SCO’s utter failure to screw us up. But I remember saying: "we can’t leave it up to the lawyers to be in charge". Tim O’Reilly was pretty scathing of the line, and of course it may not have been so polite to say so on stage with a hero of mine, and a lawyer to boot, Laurence Lessig.

What I am trying to say here is that lawyers are a part of life in our business. You may think they are blood sucking leaches that add nothing to innovation.

But try and tell me that that Lessig’s Creative Commons licenses haven’t created a massive burst of innovation and creativity. Why? Because here are copyright statements anyone can use.

We still probably need a Lessig for open data, as per O’Reilly’s call, so we need to start reading and listening to lawyers so we can engage with them, and find someone that can help us do the right thing.

Does the Royal Society have any *right* to keep works out of the public eye that are now out of copyright? I don’t think so. Neither legal nor ethical. Its a bit off really – The Royal Society is a poster child for open innovation in James Surowiecki’s Wisdom of The Crowds, and here it is, trying to turn us over a couple of quid after two months of free.

Without lawyers on the team, Microsoft wouldn’t be able to make the progress it is. Thems the breaks.

Law and IT aren’t separate disciplines, any more than marketing and technology are – they are interlaced.

To conclude I want to point at Dillon again – where he talks to the Sun hardware-as-a-service strategy.

The idea behind the Sun Grid is that in the future, just as with electric power, individuals will access their compute power, software applications and storage over the Internet. It is an intriguing idea that presents an interesting, but complex array of legal and regulatory challenges. In the course of developing the Sun Grid we have had to consider legal issues involving: data privacy, data security, regulations applicable to on-line commerce, DMCA, tax, Sarbanes-Oxley, Digital Rights Management, state and federal consumer protection statutes, licensing of third-party applications in a hosted environment and US export controls. We have also looked at laws that are applicable to certain types of customers and markets. For example, there are specific legal frameworks that apply to certain heavily regulated industries such as banking (Graham Leach Bliley) and health care (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act). And, the number of laws and regulations we will need to consider will only increase as the Sun Grid becomes available outside the US

Thankfully, (although I’m sure they felt like Mr. Edison’s lawyer at first), we have some very talented people who quietly, behind the scenes are getting the job done.

And my point is? I would like for these talented people to get some more attention, so we need to engage with them, not tell them to butt out. I want them in front of the scenes, where I can see them. Perhaps they can roll their sleeves up to.

I, for one, I welcome my new legal overlords – but I am going to encourage them to do the right thing.


  1. If we surround ourselves by people who think and feel exactly like us, what will we learn? Frankly, James, I tremble every time I’m in an argument with you, but I always come out of it smarter. So… keep bringing it on!

  2. working with attorneys in negotiations quite often and having been in a few expert witness cases for software companies, all I can is good luck trying to get them to live the “declrative lives”. Their training, and their need for non-disclosure etc conspire against it. If you and I have to be careful what we blog about our respective clients, think of them… or if they do it will be on very specific, non- current types of topics…

  3. Legal Counsel is important–very important, if they are invloved, I am sure that the community will respond favourably. However, at times, they too have their hands tied down and can never engage. Law binds them under nda and the code of ethics.

    Its only when the Law changes–will the attitude and people change. its not the lawyers who stuck up–its the law !!

  4. James,
    You are right here.

    Code as law is a must read book, for both IT folks and lawyers. The more lawyers know about technology the better, but the same goes the other way around too.

    There are some really interesting Blawgs (as law blogs are called) Lilian Edwards, Geeklawyer, Nakedlaw…I posted on this some time ago. http://theotherthomasotter.wordpress.com/2006/04/02/blawgs-lawyers-and-blogs/

  5. horacio – thanks very much. as you say, our sparring sessions definitely take some clock cycles. looks like i need to work on my spelling though… horacio with a c not a t…

    Vinnie – its a great point. bear in mind though that not only are we all becoming more declarative, but that i have more than ten years experience dealing with people that are trained to be economical with the truth… first as a reporter, now as an analyst that does business with vendors. of course lawyers are a different breed.

    pd – right on. some of my best friends are lawyers… 😉

  6. Cartoon pictures in your blog? You may be accused of not being credible…

  7. Doing open source from a really big company, I totally agree that the legal types are a huge asset to the conversation. They challenge you every step of the way. Our lawyers on OpenSolaris have been a great help, and I’m glad out top lawyer is now blogging, too. 🙂

  8. > How come Nokia is allowed to put Kodak out of
    > business by sticking a camera in every phone, but
    > Microsoft can’t include a music player in an
    > operating system?

    Because Nokia isn’t a monopoly, and possibly because they wouldn’t be abusing the monopoly by doing that if they were.

  9. well said Murray. that was my pushback, too. But i liked the question. market concentration is always a tough one.

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