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Common Legal Questions and Answers regarding Open Source Software

Common Questions surrounding Open Source Software


This article aims to dispel common misunderstandings and introduce the legal community to key issues that might arise as a result of relying on Open Source Software. The answers are not extensive but designed to enable lawyers to get a quick foundational knowledge of Open Source Software thereby enabling the legal community to better handle Open Source Software matters that are increasingly arising within modern day business.

     1. What is meant by Open Source Software?


Open Source Software “OSS” is a decentralized model of production of IT related products, in contrast with more centralized models of development such as those typically used in commercial software companies. As OSS is decentralised it allows for open collaboration by interested parties globally with little to know restrictions on who can participate.  Thus, it enables peer production, with products such as source code, “blueprints”, and documentation available to the public at no cost.

Thus, OSS is a general term which refers to software that is subject to a licence whereby it is intended to be freely distributed and which allows for the source code to be made available for any interested party’s use of the software.

  1. Is there a limit on the number of contributors for Open Source Software?


It is also important to note that there is generally no limit on the number of contributors that could potentially be working on a particular piece of OSS provided that the programme remains open.

  1. Is there a governing body for Open Source Software?


The Open Source Initiative is an organization dedicated to promoting open-source software. It monitors all matters relating to OSS and determines the what is meant by an OSS.

  1. Can Open Source software be used for commercial purposes?


All OSS can be used for commercial purpose and this is guaranteed within the OSS definition, therefore allowing you the ability to sell the OSS.

However, it is important to stress here that commercial is not the same as proprietary. If you receive software under an OSS license, you can always use that software for commercial purposes, but that doesn’t always mean you can place further restrictions on people who receive the software from you. So-called copyleft-style OSS licenses require that when you distribute the software, you do so under the same license you received it under.

  1. What is copy-left software?


“Copyleft” refers to licenses that allow derivative works but require them to use the same license as the original work. For example, if you write some software and release it under the GNU General Public License (a widely-used copyleft license), and then someone else modifies that software and distributes their modified version, the modified version must be licensed under the GNU GPL too — including any new code written specifically to go into the modified version. Both the original and the new work are Open Source; the copyleft license simply ensures that property is perpetuated to all downstream derivatives. (There is at least one copyleft license, the Affero GPL, that even requires you to offer the source code, under the AGPL, to anyone to whom you make the software’s functionality available as a network service — however, most copyleft licenses activate their share-and-share-alike requirement on distribution of a copy of the software itself. You should read the license to understand its requirements for source code distribution.)

Most copyleft licenses are Open Source, but not all Open Source licenses are copyleft. When an Open Source license is not copyleft, that means software released under that license can be used as part of programs distributed under other licenses, including proprietary (non-open-source) licenses. For example, the BSD license is a non-copyleft Open Source license. Such licenses are usually called either “non-copyleft” or “permissive” open source licenses

Copyleft provisions apply only to actual derivatives, that is, cases where an existing copylefted work was modified. Merely distributing a copyleft work alongside a non-copyleft work does not cause the latter to fall under the copyleft terms….

This Article is available within the Legal IT Insider website which can be found using the following link: https://www.legaltechnology.com/

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