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alexwhite, 123RF

Legal Issues

I have absolutely no idea who is best to talk to about this, but I have some concerns about using Linux operating systems in the UK/Northern Ireland. Please can you advise me on where to get advice or help on legal issues? Here are a few questions about operating systems.

On the Mandriva website, it talks about liability, etc. It says to check that their products (e.g., operating systems) are not restricted or prohibited in your country. How do you find out if they are or not? Who do I contact? Also how do I find out about customs fees? They are based in France; I am in Northern Ireland.

With the likes of Linux Mint, it allows you to play flash videos out of box, and I think mp3s. Are there not codecs and patents being broke by doing this?

Are there restrictions using wireless Internet or mobile broadband? Are these restricted or intellectual property on Linux systems?

I just am not sure where to find this information, and I want to be sure whatever I purchase is legal.



Vendors include those kind of warnings to defend their own legal position - and to push the responsibility for legal matters onto their customers. In many cases, the warning is so vague it is almost impossible see the reason for it. Rest assured that users are booting Mandriva all over the UK and Northern Ireland. Although we would like nothing more than to give you a crisp, clear report on what Mandriva means, we aren't lawyers either. If you are looking for a clear description of the purpose of this warning, I suggest you contact Mandriva and ask them for some clarification on what they mean.

It is possible to characterize some of the reasons for this kind of warning. The following list is by no means comprehensive, but perhaps it will provide a bit more background:

Tools for wireless Internet and mobile broadband access are not illegal in any general sense, but unauthorized use of wireless or broadband services, such as hacking onto someone else's wireless network or pirating broadband service without paying the cable company, is illegal. Of course, this applies to all computer operating systems and is not peculiar to Linux.

The topic of "intellectual property" is too broad for any single letter. There are certainly claims that Linux violates the intellectual property of various companies. Proprietary companies also accuse each other of using intellectual property inappropriately. The last company to launch a broad "intellectual property" attack on Linux was SCO. They were not able to prove their claim, and in the end, they eventually filed for bankruptcy under the weight of the accompanying legal bills.

Please send your comments and suggestions to letters@linux-magazine.com