Communities and Reputation — and Anti-SLAPP Suits

This article describes a case involving a divorce between two programmers in Oregon.  One accused the other of sexual assault, and the defendant filed a claim for defamation, because “news of the accusations and information on the police report quickly circulated in Portland’s tightly connected open source software community” and “[h]e claimed the accusations prevented him from finding work in open source software.”

The legal issue in the case has to do with anti-SLAPP legislation, a topic on which I claim no expertise.  SLAPP is an acronym for a “strategic lawsuit against public participation.” A SLAPP is a lawsuit intended to intimidate or discourage or burden an accuser (such as a whistle-blower or criminal complainant) by suing for defamation.  Many US states have enacted statutory protections against SLAPPs, and this case tested the applicability of one of those statutes.

But what does that have to do with open source software licensing?  Not a lot, directly, but it bears mentioning that open source communities are beginning to change their attitudes about regulating their members’ behavior.  If it’s true that being accused of sexual assault can get one ostracized from open source development in Oregon, that’s actually remarkable.  Open source software communities have been known historically for not seeking to control the behavior of their members.  Now some open source communities have begun to take codes of conduct — formal or informal — more seriously.  This probably won’t be the last clash between tenets of open source governance, inclusiveness of communities, and the law of defamation.

Author: heatherjmeeker

Technology licensing lawyer, drummer, dancer

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