Understanding Open Source & Free Software Licensing

Guide to Navigating Licensing Issues in Existing & New Software

Andrew M. St. Laurent

Publisher: O'Reilly, 2004, 193 pages

ISBN: 0-596-00581-4

Keywords: Open Source

Last modified: April 23, 2010, 10:34 a.m.

If you've held back from developing open source or free software projects because you don't understand the implications of the various licenses, you're not alone. Many developers believe in releasing their software freely, but have hesitated to do so because they're concerned about losing control over their software. Licensing issues are complicated, and both the facts and fallacies you hear word-of-mouth can add to the confusion.

Understanding Open Source and Free Software Licensing helps you make sense of the different options available to you. This concise guide focuses on annotated licenses, offering an in-depth explanation of how they compare and interoperate, and how license choices affect project possibilities. Written in clear language that you don't have to be a lawyer to understand, the book answers such questions as: What rights am I giving up? How will my use of OS/FS licensing affect future users or future developers? Does a particular use of this software — such as combining it with proprietary software — leave me vulnerable to lawsuits?

Following a quick look at copyright law, contracts, and the definition of "open source", the book tackles the spectrum of licensing, including:

  • The MIT (or X), BSD, Apache and Academic Free licenses
  • The GPL, LGPL, and Mozilla licenses
  • The QT, Artistic, and Creative Commons licenses
  • Classic Proprietary licenses
  • Sun Community Source license and Microsoft Shared Source project

The book wraps up with a look at the legal effects — both positive and negative — of open source/free software licensing.

Licensing is a major part of what open source and free software are all about, but it's still one of the most complicated areas of law. Even the very simple licenses are tricky. Understanding Open Source and Free Software Licensing bridges the gap between the open source vision and the practical implications of its legal underpinnings. If open source and free software licenses interest you, this book will help you understand them. If you're an open source/free software developer, this book is an absolute necessity.

  • Preface
  1. Open Source Licensing, Contract, and Copyright Law
    • Basic Principles of Copyright Law
    • Contract and Copyright
    • Open Source Software Licensing
    • Issues with Copyrights and Patents
    • The Open Source Definition
    • Warranties
  2. The MIT, BSD, Apache, and Academic Free Licenses
    • The MIT (or X) License
    • The BSD License
    • The Apache License, v1.1 and v2.0
    • The Academic Free License
    • Application and Philosophy
  3. The GPL, LGPL, and Mozilla Licenses GNU General Public License
    • GNU Lesser General Public License
    • The Mozilla Public License 1.1 (MPL 1.1)
    • Application and Philosophy
  4. Qt, Artistic, and Creative Commons Licenses
    • The Qt Public License
    • Artistic License (Perl)
    • Creative Commons Licenses
  5. Non-Open Source Licenses
    • Classic Proprietary License
    • Sun Community Source License
    • Microsoft Shared Source Initiative
  6. Legal Impacts of Open Source and Free Software Licensing
    • Entering Contracts
    • Statutory Developments Related to Software Contracts
    • The Self-Enforcing Nature of Open Source and Free Software Licenses
    • The Global Scope of Open Source and Free Software Licensing
    • The "Negative Effects" of Open Source and Free Software Licensing
    • Community Enforcement of Open Source and Free Software Licenses
    • Compatible and Incompatible Licensing: Multiple and Cross Licensing
  7. Software Development Using Open Source and Free Software Licenses
    • Models of Open Source and Free Software Development
    • Forking
    • Choosing an Open Source or Free Software License
    • Drafting Open Source Licenses
  • Appendix: Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs License


Understanding Open Source & Free Software Licensing

Reviewed by Roland Buresund

OK ***** (5 out of 10)

Last modified: May 21, 2007, 3:18 a.m.

A book written by a lawyer seldom are very readable, and this is barely an exception to this statement. It does a good job of going thru the most common licenses, paragraph by paragraph, and ends with some interesting views on Open Source and its legal limitations. Boring as it is, it is very interesting if you enjoy the subject, but you shouldn't buy this if you're new to OSS and wants an overview of the legal implications, as it is written for a semi-legal audience.

Not bad, but nothing to recommend, except to the already faithful.


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