Groklaw's New Group Project -- The Timeline Project

Wednesday, February 04 2004 @ 09:36 AM EST

Contributed by: PJ

I mentioned a while ago that I was thinking of a project for Groklaw to tackle as a group. Here is what my idea has morphed into.

I want to do a systematic, comprehensive, and carefully documented history timeline relating to Unix and the Linux kernel, based, with his kind permission, on Eric Levenez's Unix History timeline chart, but from the perspective of tracing the code by copyright, patents, trade secret, and trademark. The idea is that the final timeline will be a publicly-available resource, released under a Creative Commons license, that will assist the community in defending against - or better yet in deterring - future lawsuits against GNU/Linux code.

I am convinced that we can make a difference, legally. I am also convinced that SCO won't be the last attempt to make money from GNU/Linux code, even if they fail, which I expect them to do. There are, sadly, always companies and lawyers willing to initiate a lawsuit if there is the whiff of short-term money in the air, even if they know it's only a nuisance lawsuit.

We're in a good position to do such a project here at Groklaw. First, the gang's all here, a good foundation of folks who lived the Unix and Linux history, and we've developed the research skills to be able to follow through in depth. A friend said to me that one of our most potent weapons is that you are all still alive. We can, therefore, compile a living history, where each of you contributes your memories of Unix and Linux. That combined history will be like a shield, protecting against any so-called expert the opposition can possibly call to testify.

I talked this over with a number of individuals, including Eben Moglen, of FSF, Eric Raymond, Richard Stallman, Dan Ravicher of PubPat Foundation, and a select group of Groklaw regulars and many others at various companies and organizations, and I also interfaced with Daniel Egger at Open Source Risk Management. You will remember the article about his project. The upshot of it was that there was universally a response that this was a worthy idea, useful to pursue. Daniel Egger, as it turns out, was already working on a related project, as you know, related to offering vendor-neutral indemnification, so that users can get low-cost protection while retaining the freedom to continue modifying the code.

So I am collaborating with Daniel Egger at Open Source Risk Management and offering them my full support by coordinating the collaborative development of the timeline and the living history. I realized interacting with readers on Grokaw that if each one just contributes what he remembers, all the details, we will be able to go through it and find what matters legally. It will represent a legal barrier to future SCO copycats, because no experts they could ever come up with will be able to counter the combined evidence we will amass. That's the plan. Are you with me?

This project is highly complex and we anticipate it may well take a full year to complete. I will manage the "front-end" and post the timeline in small draft sections for public comment as we develop it; OSRM has agreed to support me by doing much of the "backend" work, including identifying and prioritizing areas where further historical research or documentary support would be desirable, and tagging, indexing, and storing relevant information for the timeline as it comes in from contributors. But the project is ours and belongs to Groklaw, and it will be our present to the world.

OSRM has simultaneously retained me, part-time, to work on their indemnification project as their Director of Litigation Risk Research. Not only that but they are donating a certain portion of my time to Groklaw, which will free me from having to do so much nonrelated paralegal work and be free to really focus for the next year on this project. I am very excited about the project and I hope we'll have fun too. Groklaw will continue, meanwhile, as it is, and it remains noncommercial and my personal baby. Well, more accurately, ours, because Groklaw wouldn't be much without you.

I'll be providing more details in the days to come. But any of you that wish to email me with any information you feel would be helpful, either in terms of the history itself, or organizing and conceptualizing it, editorially or technically, feel free to do so, or to leave your comments here. I'll be putting a permanent link to the Timeline Project on the home page, so you can find it easily. And if you know anyone that should be in on this, please spread the word.