Sunday, October 3, 2010

Open source licenses - Guidance for businesses

When any business is interested in using Open source, the immediate question that comes to mind is about licensing . Specifically, what licensing terms are available and what liabilities are imposed. The reason it is difficult for firms to work with open source is not only the many licenses in the open source world, but that most licensing terms are frozen and are not amenable for negotiation. Thankfully, there are also several licenses which permit commercial usage without any restriction on modifications. Some software is also released under multiple licenses, at least one of which is commercial friendly.

As the open source has evolved over the last 3 decades, we have several different licenses and existing ones are being updated and new ones are being created, as I write. To get the best benefit out of open source, more awareness of the most popular licenses is needed. Let me assure you that you do not need to be a legal expert to understand the same. An excellent overview is available online as part of the free book "Producing open source software", by Karl Fogel. GPL is the most widely used license and it is always evolving. GPLV3 includes support for the new technlogies like web services, Digital services etc. You can read more about it on the wikipedia

I provide a simple guidance for firms based on the nature of their use of open source. Please note that I am not a legal expert and legal opinion is to be sought before making final decision.

Implication of Open source licenses based on type of usage
Intent behind using Open source Implications with regard to license
Use open source sw internally and no intention to add/modify (eg: run a web server) No need to worry about open source license, as all of them offer you the freedom to run the software
Use open source in products sold Provide a way for your customers to get the sourcecode either on a CD, ftp site etc
Use open source in web services Select open source with license like GPL3, which includes web services in its scope

If you are part of a propreitary company but yet to venture deep into using open source, you need to do lot of work to work with your legal team, put process in place for regulating use of open source. It is worthwhile to pursue the same, as Open source is a reality that no company can afford to ignore.

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