Bonum Certa Men Certa

An Interview With Pamela Jones, Founder and Editor of Groklaw

When Pamela Jones, better known as PJ, started Groklaw, a web site devoted to covering and explaining legal cases in the news of interest to the Free Software and Open Source communities, she preferred to remain anonymous and showed no desire to become well-known. Groklaw nevertheless became extremely popular very quickly, and it quickly established itself as the place to go for information on latest developments in the SCO litigations. It also covers news about patents, standards, licenses, and numerous other topics of interest to Groklaw's readers. It corrects misinformation, otherwise sometimes known as FUD, or fear, uncertainty and doubt. And it's a site where a large group of volunteers do group legal research.



Jones was recently honored with a Knowledge Masters Award for Innovation by the Knowledge Trust and the Louis Round Wilson Academy, an annual award given to individuals who "further the creative and innovative use of, and balanced access to, the world's recorded knowledge." She also was one of the five winners this year of a Google-O'Reilly Open Source Awards at OSCON, in her case for "Best FUD Fighter." In this Q & A, she explains how Groklaw operates, what its purposes include, and where it is likely to head in the future.



Q: Groklaw appears to have established itself as an authority in areas where law meets technology. Can you foresee a point in the future where Groklaw will shift its focus away from Linux and open source in favor of coverage of issues like censorship, copyrights, and fair use?



Pamela Jones: We cover copyrights and fair use now. Basically, Groklaw covers IP law, because that's my area of training, and I try to cover litigation of interest to the community, so I'm doubtful that anything would ever take us away from Linux and FOSS.

It's core. I don't think I'd ever expand into censorship. We don't cover politics at all on Groklaw.



Q: Many people have been anticipating the demise of SCO since its controversial litigation began. After 4 long years, signs of an inevitable demise started to appear and even materialize. Has the Groklaw community ever offered any sympathy to SCO? Was there an attempt to separate the managerial and legal aspects of SCO from more technical ones?



PJ: People say that now, that they always thought SCO would fail, but I remember it differently. When Groklaw began, as I remember it, we stood pretty much alone.

handshakeAs for sympathy, I made a decision early on to concentrate only on the entities, ideas, and actions, not on individuals. I don't want ad hominem comments either. It's unseemly, hurtful, and unnecessary.

Personally, I have never wished for SCO's "demise", as you put it. I would be happier if they'd simply altered course and stayed in the Unix and Linux business. They certainly could have. It's sad to see people losing their jobs because of management decisions to chase such a strange litigation strategy. Had SCO chosen to stay in the Linux business, they could have made money. Red Hat is.

If FUD over Linux was the goal instead, then SCO must bear responsibility for the results of that decision. I can't admire such a course. But, yes, I feel for the people as people. I don't lose empathy for fellow humans, even when I disapprove of their conduct.

However, SCOsource was in my opinion an improper attempt to make money from the hard work of others, without a legitimate basis, and to make the market believe Linux was legally tainted when it was not. And had it been successful, it would have caused a lot of harm to human beings and businesses in the FOSS community, who have every right to compete in the marketplace without such harassment. So I have empathy for them even more so.

It's a bit like seeing an adult steal candy from a baby. If you saw that adult with a flat tire, you'd stop and help him. He's a fellow human in distress, after all. But when he grabs the baby's candy, you'll still step in, because it's wrong for a grownup to steal a baby's candy, just because he wants it and thinks he can get away with it.



Q: Looking ahead, which cases does Groklaw have its eyes on? Groklaw seems to be already engaged in covering the NetApp-Sun Microsystems case, but are there are other cases that will consistently receive attention?



PJ: Obviously, patent cases are now stage front and center. But we also have an arrangement now where any lawyer can contact me and ask technical questions of our members. I mean any, by the way. Let's say he or she faced doing a deposition of a technical expert. Asking Groklaw for tips in advance can be helpful. It's an added resource.



Q: What would be your advice to firms which hold what they believe to be valuable intellectual assets that bring no revenue? Should these firms consider resorting to legal action? Does it matter if the legal case might invoke the wrath of open source development communities?



PJ: I don't give legal advice. But on your last question, I think it's not a question of the community's "wrath". It's a question of knowledge. If a company files a silly lawsuit, the community will recognize it for what it is.

What is so unique about IP and FOSS is that computers are a relatively recent thing. So is FOSS. So there are people still alive who remember very well the early days, the beginnings. That has implications for prior art searching, for example. It had implications in the SCO litigation, because when SCO made broad claims in the media, there were people saying, "That's not so. I was there. It was like this..."

That can make a significant difference legally.



Q: Groklaw's coverage of OpenXML/ODF affairs has become symbolic of the powers of collaboration in an Internet era. It showed that stories can explored at a level of detail that is overlooked or unexplored by traditional media. Do you think that journalism can be improved by pooling the knowledge of more people? How about reduced editorial control? Are the benefits outweighed by the danger of publicly exposing details that are too sensitive?



PJ: I do believe that people want more information than they get from the traditional media. Groklaw is Exhibit A for that proposition, and with no space constraints, why not give it to them? You don't have to have reduced editorial control just because a lot of people are contributing. The Linux kernel, for example, is like a pyramid, with Linus and Andrew Morton at the top of the point. Anyone can contribute, but nothing goes into the kernel ultimately unless they approve it, so there is a filtration system. Groklaw is the same.

“I can imagine, however, a circumstance where Groklaw might petition a court for more transparency, but it hasn't happened yet.”And Groklaw isn't just journalism. That is part of it, but it's not all of it. I'm not trying to be the New York Times. It's a collaborative site, where we research together.

Legal research as a group does present questions of sensitivity. There are rules by the courts sometimes about confidentiality. I invariably abide by those rules. I can imagine, however, a circumstance where Groklaw might petition a court for more transparency, but it hasn't happened yet. But I know that being able to keep certain matters confidential in the legal process is very important. Here's why: anybody can sue anybody. They may not win, but they can start the process. Now, if all you had to do to spill everyone's private life and business matters in public was to sue them or be sued, no one would want to participate in the legal process, even if they had a legitimate complaint. It's vital that individuals and businesses be able to resolve disputes without all their private business secrets and personal matters being made public. So I respect those rights, just as I'd want my own privacy to be respected.

That's a difference between doing Groklaw and writing software. There aren't such privacy issues in software development.



Q: About a year ago, the notion of "crowdsourcing" was introduced. It was akin to open-source reporting and a few months ago, some people argued that it failed miserably due to lack of consensus, hidden interests, and complexity. What would be your advice -- from an editorial point-of-view -- to those who fail to coordinate a joint (or multi-player, so to speak) publication? What model would be most effective?



PJ: I'd say you need a pyramid setup in any collection of information. Consensus can't work as well. Some people know more than others about a subject, so they need to have more influence. That is the essence of a meritocracy. You want no barriers to entry to contribute information. That informational flow must be totally free. But as it filters upward, you need people you can trust, who actually are skilled in that area and have the expertise to know what is valuable information and what is junk. And you need a person at the end of the process to make final decisions. That is how Groklaw is set up. So is the Linux kernel.

“You want no barriers to entry to contribute information. That informational flow must be totally free.”It certainly can and does happen that folks contribute information without even knowing why it matters legally. I might recognize an angle that they have no awareness of because they have no legal-related training or experience, but they still end up contributing the most meaningful piece. Or members will see some technical point that I absolutely wouldn't have noticed or known about at all. I have people who are skilled in that area to advise me on picking out the gems there, and I am not so foolish that I overrule them, because I know what I know and what I only sort of know. So everyone contributes what they know best. Over time, I find out who is good at what tasks, so that's what I ask them to do more of.

But you have to have a final decision maker, or a group. Otherwise, you end up doing nothing but discussing process and whether or not to do Z or X or Y.



Q: The depth of coverage and scale of Groklaw is immense. How do you manage to locate past writings of yours and organize resources that you use to conduct research?



PJ: I wrote it, so I remember it. I know how Groklaw is set up, and I remember the general order of events, so I can go through the Archives by date or by keyword. We also have a search engine.

Computers are wonderful, but so is the human brain. When you have a lot of human brains working together, it's powerful. The other day, for example, I wrote an article about a SCO filing, and I didn't remember one very important detail about the APA between Santa Cruz and Novell, an amendment which altered the terms. An anonymous reader left a comment that reminded me of that amendment. That happens a lot. And when it happens, I'll add it to the article, to make it more useful not only now but for historians.

That is the secret of Groklaw, so many thousands of skilled people who each may remember one piece of the whole that the rest of us forgot and when you add all such contributions together, it's really valuable. I learn a lot from Groklaw myself.



Q: Have you ever had any regrets about being unable -- whether because of time constraints or physical capacity -- to closely follow and cover a particular issue?



PJ: Yes. There have been several cases I wanted to follow in more depth but just lacked the time.



Q: At times, Groklaw appears to set its focus on ethical and humanitarian causes. Were there any times when you felt like you could serve your readers better by stepping outside the realms of technology altogether in order to cover completely different topics? Let's assume that preferences, background, and interests of the existing readers are not an issue here.



PJ: No. I like doing what I'm doing. I care about being a decent, ethical person, and obviously the entire community felt a moral outrage at what SCO was doing, so that's probably why you got that impression, but Groklaw isn't cause-based. I'm realistic, and I have no illusions about remaking the world. I'm merely trying to explain one piece of it.

Groklaw is an experiment in applying open source principles to legal research, and that is where we'll keep our flag planted. It's not about causes. I don't belong to any such organizations personally.

“Groklaw is intended to be a bridge between the legal and the technical communities, so they can cooperate.”I try my best to explain in accessible language what is going on in the courts. That's it. There is one cause, I guess you could say. Groklaw is intended to be a bridge between the legal and the technical communities, so they can cooperate.

When they each understand what the other does and why, they can help each other so that eventually court decisions are more solidly based on how the tech actually works, what it can and can't do. I see that cooperation as an urgent need, for two reasons: everyone today can be a publisher on the Internet. So everyone needs to understand how the law works. And second, computers and the Internet are new enough that many lawyers and judges are not yet up to speed on the tech, and that can result in decisions that are unworkable or just legally bizarre. That causes pain, cynicism about the law, and even market results that are counterproductive and very costly to fix. So spreading technical knowledge to the legal community and legal knowledge to the tech community is ultimately helpful in preventing such problems. That's the hope, anyway.

Originally published in Datamation in 2007

Comments

Recent Techrights' Posts

The World Wide Web Has Been Rotting for Years (Quality, Accuracy, and Depth Consistently Decreasing)
In the past people said that the Web had both "good" and "bad" and that the good outweighed the bad
Bing Was at 2.6% in Russia When LLM Hype Started. Now It's Down to 0.8% (for 3 Months in a Row Already)
The sharp fall of Bing may mean that exiting the Russian market won't matter to anybody
Antenna Abuse and Gemini Abuse (Self-hosting Perils)
Perhaps all this junk is a sign of Gemini growing up
Djibouti Enters the Windows "10% Club" (Windows Was 99% in 2010)
In Africa in general Microsoft lost control
[Video] Boston Area Assange Defense (Yesterday)
It was published only hours ago
 
Links 16/07/2024: TikTok Ban in Europe and Yandex Split
Links for the day
Gemini Links 16/07/2024: On Packrafting and on Trump Shot
Links for the day
[Meme] Firefox Users Who Think They Know Better Than Mozilla
Enjoy Firebook
Firefox Used to Have About Half the Market in Switzerland, But It Doesn't Stand a Chance Anymore (Chrome Surging This Summer)
Mozilla has managed to alienate some of the biggest fans of Firefox
Microsoft's Biggest Losses Are in Europe This Summer
Microsoft's ability to milk a relatively rich Europe is fast diminishing
How to Make Software Suck and Discriminate Against People at the Same Time
ageism glorified
[Meme] Microsoft Seems to be Failing to Comply With WARN Act (by Refusing to Announce Mass Layoffs as They Happen)
since when does Microsoft obey the law anyway?
Microsoft Layoffs Are Still Too Frequent to Keep Abreast of and Properly (or Exhaustively) Classify
The "HR" department knows what's happening, but whistleblowers from there are rare
Bahamas Joined the "5% Windows" Club
statCounter only traces back about 1 in 20 Web requests to Windows
Links 16/07/2024: Salesforce Layoffs and Microsoft's DMARC Fail
Links for the day
Possibly Worse Than Bribes: US Politicians and Lawmakers Who Are Microsoft Shareholders
They will keep bailing out Microsoft to bail themselves out
The Software Freedom Conservancy Folks Don't Even Believe in Free Speech and They Act As Imposters (Also in the Trademark Arena/Sense)
Software Freedom Conservancy was already establishing a reputation for itself as a G(I)AFAM censor/gatekeeper
GNU/Linux Share Doubled in the United States of America (USA) in the Past 12 Months
Or so says statCounter
Even in North Korea (Democratic People's Republic Of Korea) Google Said to Dominate, Microsoft Around 1%
Google at 93.26%
[Meme] The Red Bait (Embrace... Extinguish)
They set centos on fire, then offer a (de facto) proprietary substitute for a fee
Shooting the Messenger to Spite the Message
segment of a Noam Chomsky talk
Guinea: Windows Down From 99.3% to 2.7% 'Market Share'
Guinea is not a small country
Over at Tux Machines...
GNU/Linux news for the past day
IRC Proceedings: Monday, July 15, 2024
IRC logs for Monday, July 15, 2024
What's Meant by "Antenna Abuse" (Gemini)
syndication is not a monopoly in Gemini and if one doesn't condone political censorship, then one can create one's own syndication service/capsule
Microsoft Layoffs and Entire Unit Termination: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
What an announcement to make just before Independence Day
Links 16/07/2024: Old Computer Challenge and One Page Dungeon Contest
Links for the day
Microsoft Falls Further and Closer Towards 10% (Windows "Market Share") in Kuwait
more countries entering the "single-digit Windows" (under 10%) club
Gemini Links 15/07/2024: Antenna's Pro-Hamas Bias Revisited and Old Computer Challenge
Links for the day
[Video] Julian Assange, Over One Decade Ago, Cautioning About What the Internet Had Truly Become
video is not new
Homage to Malta
Malta is probably easy for Microsoft to bribe
IRC at 16
Logging has been used for us and against us
In Malta, Android/Linux Has Overtaken Microsoft Windows (According to statCounter)
statCounter milestone?
Links 15/07/2024: China’s Economic Problems, Boeing Under Fire
Links for the day
500 Days' Uptime Very Soon
Good luck doing that with Windows...
Windows Falls Below 20% in Tunisia
A month ago we wrote about GNU/Linux in Tunisia
Links 15/07/2024: Google Wants Wiz and Why "Sports Ruin Everything"
Links for the day
Gemini Links 15/07/2024: Old Computer Challenge and Sending Files via NNCP
Links for the day
Over at Tux Machines...
GNU/Linux news for the past day
IRC Proceedings: Sunday, July 14, 2024
IRC logs for Sunday, July 14, 2024
Debian History Harassment & Abuse culture evolution
Reprinted with permission from Daniel Pocock
Microsoft Windows Down to 23% in Spain
the rate of change is noteworthy
[Meme] It Is Not About Empowerment, It's About Optics for Bigots and Businessmen
Truth hurts
Truth is Always Truth
Desperate efforts to suppress the truth resulted in even worse chaos and some people are going to pay for it
Android Surges to New Highs in Georgia, Windows Plunges to 30% (It Was 99% in 2012)
Until 2012 almost all Web requests there came from Windows
Another Casualty of the 'GAI' Ponzi Scheme: Most of the News Cycle and News Sites
accelerated death of journalism
Empowering Predators Who Fancy Exercising Control Over Women (Using Corporate Money)
Remember this when Google talks about diversity, women etc.
GNU/Linux Continues Its Rapid Growth in July, Today We Look at Belgium
Again, a word of caution: statCounter isn't a perfect yardstick
Links 14/07/2024: Goldman Sachs Says 'Advanced' or 'Generative' Hey Hi (AI) is Just Hype, Thoughts on Negatives
Links for the day
GNOME Foundation Welcomes Dolly
It didn't work out with Molly and Holly
Links 14/07/2024: Perils for AI PC Hype Train, Further Attacks on Freedom of the Press
Links for the day
A Response to Bill Maher's Senseless Attacks on Julian Assange and Wikileaks
published a few hours ago
The List of Sites or Sources for Linux News is Getting Shorter Over Time (Despite GNU and Linux Steadily Growing in Usage)
A lack of publishing begets lack of educated, informed population (a return to Dark Ages where rulers leverage mass ignorance)
The Number of Web Servers Has Gone Down
Cloud fatigue deux?
[Meme] GNOME Foundation's Relationship With Women
Lots more coming soon, so stay tuned
The Smugness of "I'm a Journalist"
Attacking women for expressing their opinions (for example, about the abuse they received) isn't unprecedented
It Takes No Courage to Become Another Corporate Stooge
transition to spam
Why Techrights Has Just Programmatically Blacklisted ZDNet
Even their "Linux" writers are AWOL
Gemini Links 14/07/2024: The Stress of 24/7 Notifications and FOSS tools for Sipeed Tang Nano 1K
Links for the day
Windows Already Down to 10% in Lao (It was 96% a Decade and a Half Ago), Vista 11 Adoption Has Stalled
And GNU/Linux is topping a 1-year high in Loa
IRC Proceedings: Saturday, July 13, 2024
IRC logs for Saturday, July 13, 2024
Over at Tux Machines...
GNU/Linux news for the past day