The Open Source Scare

As everyone knows there is this thing going around of people copying. They copy each other by the way they dress, what is fashionable to eat (I love sushi), and the codey they need to develop.

Some even say we have a right to copy: it’s called copyright

In coding this is a fairly complex thing… As seen in the article by Joel Spolsky, where he looks into those sideline projects, we can see some issues like: who really owns the code? In retalliation to many of this, the open source community was born.

Defining open source

Google defines open source as:

…denoting software for which the original source code is made freely available and may be redistributed and modified.

The idea here is that the source code is open, and anyone can go in and change it, or look what is going on inside. It DOESN’T mean free though, but many are free,

Open source concerns

Some of the concerns from the dev community has been things like:

  • we are telling students from universities to write code and give it away for free – thus we are giving away jobs and intelectual property.
  • But I want to do such a simple task, and now i need to reinvent the wheel.

But i need that component

And this is where the issue kicks in. The problem is that we ‘need’ to get that thing. And it is free when i hack it. Or, on the other hand, the component with the sourcecode is available for ‘free’ online.

It all sounds good and well, but we should not forget who owns the code, or what license if comes with. There has been quite a few cases where we have seen we need to be exceptionally careful on what code we use where.

As mentioned by

n the Sitecom case (2004) Welte identified his own source code in the binaries for Sitecom´s Network routers, which Welte had licensed under the GNU GPL v2.0 but Sitecom had not made the source code available or referenced the GNU GPL v2.0, both of which are a requirements of the License. The District Court of Munich granted Welte an injunction against Sitecom Deutschland GmbH whereby Sitecom was prohibited to distribute the products, until they were compliant with the GPL terms. Sitecom appealed but lost and posted the terms for GPL on their Web FAQ for the router.

Some cases were reported where companies had to open source ALL their code for violating the terms and conditions of the source code!

Here are some information on the most common licenses:

A summary of some licenses

GNU General Public License GNU General Public License
  • Copy it as many times as you like, on as many machines as you like
  • If you want to SELL your software, you need to give the clients a copy of the license, saying they can find the open source piece somewhere else for free.
  • If you modify the open source code, go ahead! BUT the code needs to be RELEASED UNDER THE SAME LICENSE

An example would be if we use a dropdown with this license, that we give clients a link to the license, and tell them they are able to get the dropdown somewhere else for free – but obviously our software is not ALL free! But hold on, you also need to open source your code here! So be careful if you use a control code with this license.

  • This license is like the previous one, but allows people to use these libraries in proprietary

With this license you are able to use your dropdown comercially and in proprietary software… remember to let your client know that you are using it and give them the license (even if it is through a link)!

  • You can only attribute the contributers by explicit permission

The BSD license is similar to the GPL, but you need to make sure that the copyright notices are still in the final product.

MIT Licenses
  • Sell it, rent it, sub-license it, or do whatever with it
  • Change and modify it
  • Include the copyright license agreement of the MIT license

More reading

Smashing magazine

Choose a license


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