Chapter 8. A Comparison of Open Source Licenses

This chapter covers the legal underpinnings of open source software as embodied in the licenses created to protect and extend the aims of the software’s creators. From the foundation provided by the GPL that Richard Stallman created for his GNU project, which governs the use and distribution of Linux today, to its predecessors developed by MIT and UC Berkeley, open source licenses have since evolved into more than 50 “flavors” administrated by universities, individuals, and increasingly, corporations including IBM, Apple, and Sun.

How much time an IT department must spend worrying about licenses depends on how open source will be used. For most CIOs and CTOs, who are interested in using open source software only to meet their day-to-day needs, there is little to be concerned about. This group will benefit from this chapter’s explanations of licenses as they related to the SCO case, which is discussed in more detail in Chapter 9, as well as discussions of other software debates and policy issues.

For companies that are developing software that includes open source as components, it is critical to understand the aims and restrictions of these licenses. Even upper management should study the principles involved. One license might require sharing any new code created with the open source community, and another might mean handing over that code to a software giant’s private developers. The current generation of licenses might also prove to ...

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