[clug] Open Source Licensing

Robert Edwards bob at cs.anu.edu.au
Fri May 1 06:21:08 GMT 2009

Daniel Pittman wrote:
> George Bray <georgebray at gmail.com> writes:
>> I need to understand more about open source licensing options for an
>> application we want to release, so I'm wondering if CLUGers have any
>> recommendations for current learning material.
> You can find, and others have pointed to, various online material on the
> topic.  This will help you have some idea what the licenses mean.
> What you really want, though, is to talk to a lawyer who specializes in
> the area — ideally open source, but even plain IP law would do — and
> discuss your needs with them.
> Without that specialized advice you run the risk of discovering that a
> license doesn't cover all the issues you needed it to cover, such as
> exposing you to liability in some parts of the world, allowing use you
> didn't imagine of the code — or of related ephemera like the name, and
> so forth.
> IP law is hard, international law is hard, and this is at the sticky
> meeting point of both of those.
> Regards,
>         Daniel

Whilst I Am Not A Lawyer, and I can see where Daniel is coming from,
some of these points are a little stretched, I think.

As to liability in other parts of the world - what is really the worst
that can happen? You get arrested if you travel to that country? What
if you use someones trademarked name in some country, so what? The
worst that can happen is the trademark owner can forbid your software
from being used in that country. Big deal. Change the name, if that
happens and it concerns you.

I don't want to sound too flippant, but mostly if you stick to one of
the main FOSS licenses, you can't really go wrong. If you are linking
with or deriving from GPL code, you MUST use the appropriate version of
the GPL (but if you don't... then what?). If you are concerned about
the viral nature of the GPL, then use the BSD, Mozilla, Apache or
similar FOSS license.

At the end of the day, it is highly unlikely that someone will sue a
FOSS project as there is, by definition, no money involved. You may get
a letter from an aggrieved organisation, then you might need to see
the lawyer - or not...


Bob Edwards.

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