Rich Apodaca on Open Source Licenses

January 1, 2007

Rich Apodaca has written a very worthwhile 30,000′ intro to Open Source licenses. OS licensing has been a recurring theme in my life over the last few years, from attempting to persuade my former employer to open source their product, through working with DSpace and latterly here at the Unilever Centre. However much of a pain the whole subject is, it can’t be avoided – as Rich concludes “If you plan on creating or using Open Source software, learning the basic ideas behind Open Source licensing is a wise investment.”, and I’d like to pass on a few more hints to make it easier.

Remember that copyleft licenses don’t prevent commercial use of the software, but do limit your potential collaborations (you might not, for example, be able to write an integration with BSD licensed software).

If you’re the copyright holder for the software and you retain copyright, you can alter the license at some future point. This implies that it’s worth favouring a more restrictive license initially, because the licenses can be more easily relaxed than tightened.

Finally; an important aspect of OS licensing is not to get too worked up about choosing a license to defend you against abuse by a commercial player. Your license is as strong as your ability to defend it, so at the end of the day you probably have to accept that if some big evil corporate really wants to abuse ‘pinch your code’, they will. The speed, talent and productivity of an open collaboration are the best defence.

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