Andriani Ferti interview

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Interview for the Zine by Mel Chua

We caught Andriani Ferti, OLPC's legal intern, on her last day at 1cc to talk about international trade regulations, how to convince businesses that open-source licenses make legal sense, and her first exposure to copyright law as a child in Greece. A transcript follows.

Andriani child.jpg

Little-known-fact: before entering the legal profession, Andriani was heavily involved with connectivity testing in the pre-mesh-network age.

Getting involved

Mel: What are you doing here at OLPC?

Andriani: I graduated from the law school of the University of Athens in Greece and then came for my master’s degree (LL.M.) at UC Berkeley Law School. As part of my optional practical training after graduation in the United States, I am working with OLPC on legal issues as an intern.

Mel: How did you get involved with OLPC?

Andriani: Well, I got fascinated the first time I heard about the idea of a low-cost laptop, especially designed as an educational tool, in November 2005. It was when I heard in the news about Nicholas [Negroponte] presenting the OLPC prototype at the WSIS [conference] in Tunis and I was still working in Greece. Media in Greece show great interest in the project, because of Nicholas and Michail’s Greek origins.

As soon as I started working on my master’s thesis at UC Berkeley, I decided to research more on the relation between OLPC, open source software and the right to education. Michail has been a great mentor and consultant on that and at our first meeting he suggested to me to work more on the legal implications of the GNU General Public License, especially in relation with proprietary software, for my thesis. Thus, my internship at OLPC came as a result and a precious gift for my research on OLPC and open source software.

Mel: When was this?

Andriani: I started in mid-September of 2007; my internship has been for 9 months.

Projects: what are the legal implications?

Mel: Can you tell us more about your projects? It would be great if the community could hear more about the important work you've been doing with licensing.

Andriani: I first started working on some of the licensing agreements with regard to copyrights and IP in general. OLPC is a very dynamic tech organization and its activities cover a wide variety of IP-related issues, starting from hardware and software agreements to content-related issues. There are also issues related to the regulatory compliance of OLPC with U.S. and international rules, such as, for example, the regulations governing the export control of encryption software.

In addition, it is significant for an organization with such a worldwide impact to protect its audience from potential confusion, when other entities are using our logos, but also it is important to use trademarks in such a way, so as to build even stronger relations with our grassroots communities and all the entities supporting our project.

Compliance with laws and regulations is important in a well-structured global society and it is also a substantial part of education. Many people are curious to find how a law graduate can get involved with OLPC, wondering about the legal implications of our project. What I fundamentally believe as a lawyer is that law should act preemptively. My work gets more fascinating and interesting, when I am trying to find out the potential legal implications and how the entity I am advocating can avoid them. Litigation can be expensive, burdensome, and time-consuming, therefore, you have to apply the law in the best possible way and be compliant with the rules.


Mel: Licensing, IP, trademarks, regulations - you've got a lot of projects going on. Can we go through them one at a time? Let's start with licensing - what kinds of licensing issues have you been working on?

Andriani: In my very first project I worked with Robert [Fadel], Mary Lou [Jepsen] and Richard [Smith], trying to find if and how we could open up the code used in the EC Kernel to help our developers in the design of the multi-battery charger.

Mel: Right, they have to do a cleanroom approach to the kernel.

Andriani: Exactly. It’s a challenge in our technology world to convince the businesses about the advantages of open source software, even from the perspective of businesses having applied so far the standardized proprietary business model. You have to practice hard in presenting them how they could also benefit from an open source model. At least you have to try to keep the window open, in case there will be a shift in their stances and they might consider opening up their software, especially when it comes to OLPC and its humanitarian cause.

Behind open source software there is definitely a strong philosophy background that drives people’s interest. In addition to that, day by day businesses are starting getting more and more interested in what open source represents, understanding its benefits. An interesting example is that of Cisco and Linksys and its wireless router, the source code of which is GPL-licensed.

OLPC's stance on open source

Andriani: I also worked with Michail on the use of open source software in software-defined radios and the rules of the FTC [Federal Telecommunications Commission], regarding that use, and how the FTC rules govern as well the use of open source software in the wireless firmware.

Mel: I'm surprised that the stance hadn't already been set.

Andriani: Our work was mostly a research on the subject and its legalities. For instance, several entities raise liability issues in that case; who bears the burden of proof of the compliance of a wireless radio device with the FTC rules? Who would be liable in any case of malfunction? Would the actual manufacturer be liable, if a third person misused the radio device and the source code that such a radio device employs? It is also important this research to have a worldwide perspective. There are many questions and several jurisdictions give different solutions.


Mel: You also talked about trademark issues and the use of OLPC's logos by volunteers, grassroots groups, on their webpages and such... why is that not okay?

Andriani: Well, as I said law is a tool to help people build stronger and safer communities. The use of our logos does not have to do with monetizing the use of our branding and profiting from that. It’s mainly related to the protection of our audience and all the people interested and participating by any means in our project. Wouldn’t it be nice to accommodate all people’s needs and build stronger communities supporting and assisting OLPC, without fear of getting misled by other people’s misuse of our logos?

Mel: One proposal I've heard is having a set of trademarked logos for "official" OLPC use only, and then a set of community logos that anyone could use to indicate that yes, we like this project, we support it, we want to do things to support it.

Andriani: That could work. In this way, people would understand how each group is related or affiliated with OLPC and what exactly is doing. The more typical this process is, the easier and the more effective is going to be for people to get involved in our project. For example, user groups, providing a description of their activities compliant with OLPC’s policy for its user groups, should be able to use a particular form of our logos and make clear what their activities are and what their relation with OLPC is.

Mel: Who's keeping track of that information?

Andriani: It's not finished yet, it’s an on-going effort.

Regulations and compliance with export laws

Andriani: And then there's the compliance with it/ip-related regulations.

Mel: Yeah, I was going to ask you about that. What do the regulatory issues at OLPC apply to?

Andriani: One of the most important cases is that of the encryption software. It’s part of our compliance with regulatory restrictions in the U.S. to control any export activities related to encryption software or encryption devices. Meeting the requirements of such rules means making more parts available to kids outside the US, because of the restrictions in exporting encryption technologies.

Mel: I hadn't even thought about technology export law. And you have to do that for every part you want to send to every country... wow.

Andriani: It's challenging to work for an organization that's currently evolving, and it has a worldwide impact. So you have to comply, not only with U.S. regulations, but also with international ones. We're trying to go through that compliance in the potentially simplest way, in order to bring the computers to more children’s hands.

How can people help? / Copyright law

Mel: How can people help with the legal aspects of OLPC? I imagine we've got at least a few lawyers in our volunteer community.

Andriani: It's hard for volunteers to do so, because legal help can stumble across confidentiality issues of OLPC, but it’s always possible.

Mel: How about doing research, helping to find information for the people who can look at the things under NDA?

Andriani: A good volunteer project would be that of defining the specific licensing status of our content stuff and classifying it. It would also require help from people representing various jurisdictions, where the XOs are deployed. In this way it would be interesting for more partners worldwide to get involved and apply their knowledge on the legislation of all the different countries - Uruguay, Peru, Latin America, Asia. There are many questions that have to be solved in its case; how are the books and music and files we're sharing licensed? How could you tell the children in the simplest way that the content they are using... "this one is CC, this one is... here is what you can do with it, you can copy it, you can modify it, etc."?

This activity is not a part of teaching the children copyright law the way we are learning that at law school. It is a part of making the children respect other people’s intellectual work, but also inspiring their creativity and let them make a number of new things with those works.

I remember when I was at primary school in Greece, in the back page of our textbooks you could find the following copyright notice: "you don't have the right to copy, etc." As a kid I was always reading it again and again in my textbooks and I never ever realized what it meant. We have to find a way to make it more appealing and apparent to children what this notice actually means, than just having the copyright notice and saying "yay, we're now compliant."

Where next?


Mel: Today is the last day of your internship - where are you going next?

Andriani: I'm going to work for a law firm as an it/ip competition lawyer in Brussels. That's both exciting and challenging as I am going to be in the heart of the EU, having the opportunity to have an impact in the legislative and regulatory world of the European Union with my work.

Mel: And you'll be surrounded by lawyers instead of hackers.

Andriani: I will miss hackers a lot, but we are going to hack another type of code... The law!!!!

Mel: Last question. If you were given the XO as a kid, what do you think you would do with it?

Andriani: I probably would do music with the XO. I'm interested in music from my early childhood - I love playing the piano and I love rhythm... Thus, I would probably try to hack with TamTam and play with it, find sounds, and compose more music.

Mel: That's all I've got. Is there anything else you wanted to say?

Andriani: That the OLPC experience has been my greatest professional experience so far. Thus, I would like to thank all the people at OLPC and especially at 1cc for contributing to that. I am fond of OLPC as a place full of such smart and passionate people, committed to their work, their dreams, their passions and their vision.