DOKK Library

Free and Open Source Licenses, Software Development, and Distribution

Authors Stephen Walli

License CC-BY-2.5

 Free and Open Source Licenses, Software Development, and Distribution
 by Stephen Walli | VP, Open Source Development Strategy

 Programmers have been sharing computer programs and source code since we had computers. In the early days it was
 often done through professional and user organizations such as DECUS, SHARE, and USENIX. The licenses through which
 such sharing happened were as varied as the end user license agreements (EULA) of proprietary software vendors today,
 and all such licenses rely on strong intellectual property laws and copyright law.

 This sharing of software has reached new heights over the past couple of decades enabled through the ease of sharing
 across the Internet. The concepts of “free” and “open source” software have became mainstream and licensing is the
 avenue through which the rules of this particular form of sharing software are laid down.

 Understanding free and open source (FOSS) licenses is not actually that difficult. A little history and a few pointers can
 clarify some of the confusion to enable organizations to make best use of FOSS in their own business contexts. With this
 understanding we will take a look at enterprise considerations around FOSS use, whether as an enterprise that wants to use
 FOSS in parts of its business infrastructure or a vendor looking for a competitive edge and a new value proposition for its

The Licenses                                                              ♦ Requires that attribution be given for the work, and
                                                                             copyrights maintained.
There are primarily three license types or families that have
arisen historically:                                                      ♦ Disclaims any warranties (express or otherwise) just as
                                                                             proprietary EULA do.
  ♦ Academic licenses (MIT Athena, Berkeley, and Apache)

  ♦ Free software licenses (General Public License and the              This license style has been referred to as Berkeley-style
     LGPL)                                                              licensing. This was also the basic model for the MIT Project
                                                                        Athena license (used for the X11 windowing technology,
  ♦ Mozilla-style licenses (Mozilla, and the IBM licenses)
                                                                        including all the contributions from Hewlett-Packard and
We will note a few other interesting licenses along the way,            Digital Equipment Corporation).
but even these derive from the basic models laid down in
these three groups.                                                     As we will see, Berkeley-style licensing supports a reciprocity
                                                                        belief counter to that espoused by the Free Software

The Academic Licenses (Berkeley, MIT, Apache)                           Foundation (FSF) – that the software would definitely be
                                                                        freely distributable, but the reciprocity requirement should be
During the mid-1980s period, the Computer Science                       encouraged in the community and not commanded in the
Research Group at the University of California, Berkeley was            license.
doing a lot of research work on early UNIX systems, and
acted as a hub for the collaborative research community. The            The Berkeley-style license was also the model used in the

regents of the university developed a simple license for their          early Apache community in 1995. The original Apache web

work to encourage new research and adoption of the                      server was created out of work developed at the National
software. The Berkeley license essentially:                             Center for Supercomputing Applications, University of Illinois,
                                                                        and the license reflected the research base and collaborative
  ♦ Enables the software user to do anything with the
                                                                        development in that community.
     software, including extending and selling it.

  ♦ Does not require any derived software be licensed under             In 2004 the Apache 2.0 license was released. It is a
                                                                        complete rewrite to account for current concerns of software
     the same license or that the changes be published. This
                                                                        contributions and patents, and is a richer and more complex
     enables “closed” or proprietary products to safely include
     such licensed software.                                            license in its legal structure, but it remains true to the
                                                                        principles of its history.

                  © Copyright Optaros, Inc. 2005. Some Rights Reserved. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 License
                                                                       Understanding Free and Open Source Software Licenses - 2 of 3

Free Software Licenses (GPL, LGPL)                                      vendors (including software vendors) use and develop
                                                                        software licensed under the GPL.
In 1985, Richard Stallman created the Free Software
Foundation and his definition of software freedom, where a              All through much of the rest of the 1980s and 1990s

program's source code was always available and a user could             everyone followed one of these two models with simple

always fix and extend the software without restriction. The             variations around such clauses as jurisdiction.
General Public License (GPL) laid down this particular sharing
foundation.                                                             The Mozilla License

  ♦ If the user distributes the changed software they can               Before we cover the Mozilla license, a small detour is in
    only do so by sharing their changes the same way                    order. When the Perl language hit the scene, Larry Wall
    through the same license. This is the reciprocity                   created the Artistic License. The Artistic license was intended
    requirement of the free software definition. This is a              to maintain the open aspect of the Artistic licensed code,
    primary difference from the academic class of licenses              while enabling innovation around the core project to be
    that permit derivatives to be re-licensed under other               licensed as appropriate. It tried to find a balance between
    (possibly closed, proprietary) terms.                               the hard line sharing required by the GPL and the complete

  ♦ If you used any of the GPL-licensed source code in your             freedom of the academic licenses. It is a popular license,
                                                                        though some consider it legally ambiguous in places.
    own programs, and distribute those programs, the entire
    newly derived program including your own source code                In the late 1990s, Netscape published the source code to
    becomes subject to the GPL. This is where the concept of            their browser and began to build a community of developers
    a virus is attached to the GPL.                                     around it. This project was called the Mozilla project, and the
  ♦ The GPL disclaims any warranties (express or otherwise)             license created was the Mozilla Public License (MPL). This is
    just as proprietary EULA do.                                        one of the first licenses created by a corporation, and that
                                                                        heritage shows through in its legal structure and depth
It is important to note a couple of things here:
                                                                        compared to FOSS licenses prior to that point. It had similar
  ♦ The reciprocity requirements are triggered on                       goals to the Artistic License. Essentially, the MPL:
    distribution of the software, not on using it.
                                                                          ♦ Requires derivatives of the MPL work that are the
  ♦ There is nothing that has forced you to expose the                       original work plus contributions to be licensed under the
    source code to your application. The license contains its                MPL, thus creating the reciprocity of the GPL for the core
    own redress. You can always withdraw the software                        project.
    distribution. (If you were a commercial software
                                                                          ♦ Enables MPL licensed works to be combined with other
    organization, this might still prove onerous, and so one
                                                                             software and re-licensed into a “Larger Work.” This
    does need to pay attention when working with GPL
                                                                             enables the development of possibly closed proprietary
    software that will be distributed.)
                                                                             software similar to the academic licenses.
The Lesser GPL (LGPL) was developed later to account for                  ♦ Discusses patent rights relevant to the licensed work.
software libraries. Many that would share their software
                                                                          ♦ Disclaims any warranties (express or otherwise) just as
subroutine libraries under the GPL didn't necessarily want to
                                                                             proprietary EULA do.
force the recipient to have to share anything other than their
changes to the library. The way the GPL was written would               There has been a proliferation of open source software
unfortunately force the entire software (libraries and the              licenses based on the Mozilla license, because other
program using the libraries) to come under the GPL. The                 companies wishing to develop collaborative software
LGPL enabled a library to be licensed which did not require             communities as a business tool invariably want to change the
the entire application to be licensed under the same license            jurisdiction clause and define language around what patent
(and so enabling it to remain closed), while still requiring            concerns they may or may not have. The language of the
changes to the library itself to be published under the LGPL if         Mozilla Public License is very Mozilla project centric.
                                                                        One can see a certain lineage to the Mozilla license in the
Many of the most important FOSS programs of the past 20                 development of IBM licenses, from the original IBM Public
years are licensed under the GPL, including the Linux                   License through the Common Public License to the newest
operating system, the GCC compiler suite, the MySQL                     Eclipse Public License that are used around the Eclipse
database engine, and JBOSS application server. Many                     project.

                    © Copyright             2005. Some Rights Reserved. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 License
                                                                         Understanding Free and Open Source Software Licenses - 3 of 3

Enterprise Considerations                                                 reducing the number of very expensive licenses one required
                                                                          for application server middleware, and database access. With
For the most part, enterprises using free and open source                 the ability to deploy as many application servers as is
software should have few concerns about licensing for the
                                                                          required and distribute the database across systems equally
following key reasons:
                                                                          freely because of a lack of per system license fees, the
  ♦ All licenses essentially allow the software to be run                 solution can be designed and built to real requirements. The
    (binary form) without restriction                                     solution can grow more organically to meet the needs of the
                                                                          enterprise at marginal additional costs. The issues then fall
  ♦ Under all licenses the source code can be modified
                                                                          back to concerns about support and maintenance.
    without restriction if the resulting software is being used
                                                                          Getting More Information
  ♦ The GPL and Mozilla family of licenses place
                                                                          The following web sites and books are excellent sources of
    requirements for re-licensing and publication on the user
                                                                          additional information on free and open source software
    only if they distribute the software. This would only
    have implications on an enterprise if they plan to
    distribute the software to their customers. (Software                 Web sites:
    development and distribution concerns are discussed in
                                                                            ♦ The Open Source Definition
    “Free and Open Source Licenses, Software Development,
    and Distribution”.)
                                                                            ♦ The Free Software Foundation definition of free software
If you're buying packaged free or open source software or a                    (
system that contains such software (e.g. Red Hat Advanced                   ♦ Open Source Initiative approved licenses referenced in
Server, or HP/UX), then the Red Hat or HP EULA is the                          this document can all be found at the following web site:
primary concern, and all other third party license concerns          
are left to the vendor.
When using open source packages, such as the MySQL
database engine, JBOSS application server, or any of the                    ♦ Lawrence Rosen, Open Source Licensing, Prentice Hall
                                                                               PTR, Upper Saddle River, NJ, 2004 (ISBN 0-13-148787-
Java frameworks that are FOSS licensed, the license enables
free deployment and use and there are no concerns within an
enterprise – the enterprise isn't developing software                       ♦ Andrew M. St. Laurent, Open Source and Free Software
derivatives that they distribute.                                              Licensing, O'Reilly Media Inc., Sebastopol, CA, 2004,
                                                                               (ISBN 0-596-00581-4)
Indeed, the ability to freely copy open source software and
deploy as much as is needed within an enterprise means the
                                                                         ABOUT OPTAROS
historical (and sometimes litigious) problem of counting users           Optaros is a consulting and systems integration firm that helps
or processors goes away, along with the auditing costs                   enterprises solve IT business problems by providing services and
                                                                         solutions that maximize the benefits of open source software. Bringing
involved. This ability to freely deploy also frees up the
                                                                         together experts in creating enterprise IT solutions and experts in the
architecture of solutions to problems. For example, there was            power of open source, Optaros plans and builds business systems that
a time when you designed the solution architecture around                give you better value today and increased control in the future.

    CREATIVE COMMONS LICENSE                                                                             CONTACT
                                                                                                           Brian Otis
                          This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 License           VP, Sales and Partnerships
                                                                                                           phone: (617) 227-1855 x110

                    © Copyright              2005. Some Rights Reserved. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 License