[clug] Open Source Licensing

Daniel Pittman daniel at rimspace.net
Fri May 1 07:07:50 GMT 2009

Robert Edwards <bob at cs.anu.edu.au> writes:
> 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.
> 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.

Well, everyone can decide on their own tolerance for risk, of course.

However, the original poster is asking about needing to review license
options for a package they want to release.  I have no idea what, if
any, legal obligations, risks or other IP issues they might have
floating around WRT their code.

> As to liability in other parts of the world - what is really the worst
> that can happen?

Seriously?  The worst that is likely to happen is that you will have a
court case filed against you for negligence, and will be forced to
either turn up in a foreign country to defend yourself or to face a
summary judgement against you.

That can cost you substantial money, possibly jail time, and Australia
*does* have an extradition treaty with the country in question — because
we are pretty liberal about that.

(This is, by the way, why commercial software instructs you that you may
 not use it in a range of situations, typically including nuclear power
 plants — to avoid liability.)

What is the worst that is likely to happen?  Not much.  You are probably
fine, just like any number of other risks will /probably/ be fine.

> You get arrested if you travel to that country?

Yup.  This is certainly possible, as is being extradited to another
country to face jail time — if you are held liable for loss of life,
that would certainly happen.

> What if you use someones trademarked name in some country, so what?

I was referring to someone using your trademarks, or good name, in ways
that you don't want to happen.  That, also, might be a concern to the OP
for all I know.


> 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.

That is generally true.  What you might well do, though, is discover
that it doesn't protect what you wanted it to protect...



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