Chris Nandor <[EMAIL PROTECTED]> writes:
> There is no need for a lawyer to compose the actual language. We are
> probably better off if a writer does. Lawyers are not well-versed, in
> general, in writing clearly.
Comments like the above worry me a lot. It's a perception of lawyers, of
the law, and of the nature of licenses that concerns me deeply in someone
who works on free software; I think it's a weakness in some sections of
the free software community that people don't take this sufficiently
seriously and will end up being exploited by commercial software companies
against their will.
It also bothers me to see inaccurate stereotypes put forward as if they're
The entire point and *purpose* of a lawyer specializing in contract law is
to write clearly. They're not writing clearly for the average reader,
necessarily; that requires a whole different type of phrasing. They're
writing clearly for the interpretation of the contract by a judge, and in
so doing they're drawing on *centuries* of definitions.
The reason why documents written by lawyers sound the way they do is
because lawyers avoid words that are ambiguous and use words that have
been clearly, explicitly, and unambiguously defined in the law, in legal
precedent, or in common law. *This is important.* This is a large
portion of the strength on which the license rests; definitions are very
significant and very important to get right.
I've seen a tendency in the free software and broader hacker community to
assume that because we like a particular clear English expression of
ideas, the rest of the world not only will as well but will come to the
same obvious meanings as we do and that all that nonsense of legal
verbiage was just five hundred years of a really bad idea and we can just
throw it all out now because lawyers don't know how to write. (Please
note: I'm not attributing this full attitude to Chris, just saying that
his above comment, perhaps off-the-cuff, reminded me of the places that
I've seen this attitude.) Reality is, I think, that the legal system has
more weight and momentum behind it than our community, as dearly as we
hold it, and we need to make sure we can protect our interests on their
ground if need be.
Russ Allbery ([EMAIL PROTECTED]) <http://www.eyrie.org/~eagle/>