As developers, it’s important that we have knowledge of intellectual property laws. Regardless of your opinion of them, (I’m very publicly outspoken about desiring an abolishment of IP) the law is the law. As a profession, programmers basically spend most of our time creating intellectual property, and so we need to have a good working knowledge of these issues.
Of course, this all comes with the giant disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. If you’re involved with any of this stuff, you should consult one.
One of the largest intellectual property laws in recent years is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. A portion of it that’s particularly relevant to programmers is Title II which is also known as the Online Copyright Infringement Liability Limitation Act, which added Section 512 to Section 17. It’s best known as being the bill that introduced the ‘safe harbor’ provision, which affects online service providers such as GitHub. Here’s what the safe harbor means in laymen’s terms: if you have a website where users post content, you’re not liable for the things they post as long as you respond in a timely manner to ‘takedown notices’ from copyright holders. Hence, a ‘safe harbor’ for companies.
Due to the recent kerfluffle between Sony and the group of hackers who are hacking the PS3, Sony’s been on a tear to try and remove the code from the Internet. Of course, some people are hosting said code on GitHub, as well as many other public source code hosts. And so, Sony sent a takedown notice to GitHub. In light of this, GitHub has put up a page which clarifies their position regarding the DMCA. Of course, they’re responding to takedown notices. However, they’re also doing two really neat things: They’re publicly posting the text of these notices in this repository, and they’ve also provided a framework so that people who have had takedown notices sent about their repos can ‘counter-notify’ and have their content brought back up. All of this is laid out in a very straightforward manner in the law, but most companies simply delete the content and let that be it.
There’s only three notices so far, but I applaud GitHub for being transparent and fair about this whole thing. Good stuff!