James Wright

Last modified by JimWright on 2016/04/05 11:27

Who is this guy?

Those of you who've met me or heard me speak over the last decade at events of the Linux Foundation, FSF, Software Freedom Law Center, Practicing Law Institute, IP Section of the California Bar, etc., probably know me as Jim.  By way of background, I'm both a software architect and an attorney.  Personally speaking, I’m happily married, live in Santa Cruz County, California, and have a son in kindergarten, and my hobbies include bicycling (and building a collection of interesting bikes which I will bore you with given the opportunity), coffee (I’m an espresso freak, another topic I can talk about indefinitely), and volunteering at Jr’s school.  My current bill paying gig is acting as Oracle’s Chief Architect for Open Source Policy, Strategy, Compliance & Alliances, though I also have numerous other roles at Oracle that might not be obvious from my title including approval of basically all third party tech in our products (both proprietary licensed and FOSS, including both hardware and software), setting and enforcing security & development policies, helping to manage Oracle Labs, etc. – my job includes legal, technical and business functions.

I started my career in 1990 at Borland working Turbo Pascal tech support (where I worked my way through undergrad at UC Santa Cruz), then moved on to a small consulting outfit where I worked on everything from installers to crypto to network drivers, then on from there until eventually landing at InstallShield where I got my first exposure to open source in the late 90s.  After going back to law school, I spent a number of years in big firm private practice working on a wide variety of IP transactional matters, including both FOSS and commercial software licensing, research collaboration and joint venture agreements, patent licensing, and M&A, as well as some IP litigation.  I also spent quite a bit of time doing public sector procurement work, including by way of example representing the County of Los Angeles in acquiring new voting equipment to comply with the Help America Vote Act.  

So you could say I’ve been exposed to FOSS in a wide variety of contexts, as well as other aspects of IP transactions and litigation that provide a pretty broad perspective.  I try to bring this to all of my work, and it leads me to both considering elements that a more narrow focus or experience base might not, and also to a level of pragmatism that more lawyers, frankly, need.

Why am I doing this?

In short, my experience in managing FOSS policy has led me to believe that the FOSS ecosystem is currently suffering from significant transaction costs that are slowing our ability to advance.  I aim to reduce those through a combination of consensus building, education, and ongoing development (both legal and technical).

So what does that vague political talk mean specifically?  Well, by way of background, if this was not obvious, Oracle is one of the world’s largest purveyors of and contributors to FOSS projects, both by virtue of our own offerings and contributions to other projects as well.  The choices I make every day about our licensing policies and uses of FOSS affect tens of thousands of our own developers, not to mention the millions of users of that code.  On top of that, I get asked every day to approve new uses of FOSS in our products, and to deal with any compliance questions that come up, both internally and externally.  That exposure has brought to my attention some of the pain points in common FOSS use cases, and if elected to the OSI board, I plan to try to leverage that position to help reduce those transaction costs for all FOSS users and contributors. 

Let’s start with education and consensus building.  Obviously there are still big educational tasks to be tackled with respect to FOSS licensing models, and I already work on those every day.  (Within the last few months, I have spoken at the Linux Foundation’s Open Compliance Summit in Yokohama, the Software Freedom Law Center’s 30th anniversary meeting in New York, and the Practicing Law Institute’s annual Continuing Legal Education event on Open Source in San Francisco.)  I plan to continue that work in any event, and if elected, also to investigate how the OSI can better communicate thought leadership, community consensus and license steward positions on things like license compatibility and the triggers of reciprocal license provisions.  We as a community have settled for far too much ambiguity for far too long IMHO, and that has at this point resulted in trolling and other problematic enforcement scenarios – there is nothing that will slow and impede FOSS adoption and authorship faster than this.  My own work on these subjects through things like the proposed Universal FOSS Exception will go on in any event, but let’s talk about if and how the OSI can help address these issues as well.

Another item I would like to address is OSI processes themselves.  In 2014, I submitted a new license to the OSI approval process – the UPL.  I did that in order to try to facilitate use of a FOSS license as a contributor agreement by Oracle, but also to try and create a standard that others could use, a permissive license with properties that others did not have (see FAQ here).  In doing so, I learned how difficult and time consuming that process was (it took almost a year to get approved), and I hope to work to reduce the time period for the OSI to act on new requests and to continue to increase transparency and clarity regarding the criteria for approval and status of requests.

Finally, I know this is a long list and we can’t solve every problem, but I would like the OSI to think about incorporating discussion of compliance tooling and best practices/processes into its agenda.  In the age of grab and go coding, it is still a considerable amount of work for companies to comply with FOSS license requirements, and a lot of that work can be minimized and/or automated through the right tooling.  Some might think of this as not particularly attractive coding, but it’s work that can be of huge benefit to all of us, and as part of the OSI’s mission of encouraging participation and adoption, helping users get to compliance more easily is a critical gateway.

There is much to be done here, and I will help do it no matter what, but I believe I can do so more effectively with respect to at least some of this working through the OSI.

If you’re still reading this, thank you very much for your attention, and feel free to hit me with any questions at [email protected].