A new law centre, funded by the Open Source Development Labs (OSDL), will provide free legal advice to open source software projects.

OSDL has raised $4.25 million to fund the Software Freedom Law Center, which is expected to employ as many as 15 full-time lawyers when fully operational.

OSDL, which also employs Linux creator Linus Torvalds, has been quietly raising money for the centre from its members since September. Based in New York, the law centre will be run by Eben Moglen, a professor of law at Columbia University Law School, and will initially employ two full-time attorneys, a chief technical officer, and administrative staff.

"The goal of this center is to provide best-of-breed world class legal advice to free and open source software projects," said Moglen. The center will not represent commercial vendors and will initially count the Free Software Foundation and the open-source Samba project among its clients, Moglen said. More clients are expected to be added in the near term.

Moglen hopes to soon raise a total of $5 million, which will fund the organisation for its first two years. The plan is to have a staff of 15 full-time lawyers within five years.

Legal opinions have become an increasingly important part of open source software development since the SCO Group launched its multi-billion dollar lawsuit against IBM last year. OSDL counts Intel, IBM and HP among its more than 60 members.

The law centre's website is at http://www.softwarefreedom.org.