What you Should know About Open Source Licensing


Our world is exploded with digital opportunities. Many Developers and designers want to release their work as open source projects. They also want to get recognized for their work. The open source community is vibrant because the essence of it is preserved through multiple iteration of the code. But there is lot of confusion out there about what open source licensing means exactly. open source licensing fall in the domain of the law, which means matters related to it quickly become relatively complex. This article can’t be considered hard core legal advice, but you may find it useful when talking with your lawyer or if necessary, coming to a decision without the help of a lawyer.

Difference between free software and open source software

To understand open source licensing, at first we need to understand the difference between free software and open source software. The term FOSS or Free and Open Source Software shows that both are different entities. Richard Stallman others started the free software Movement.

The definition of free software is focused on the freedom to share code with your neighbour. It deals with moral or ethical part of source code sharing. The point to be noted here is that not all the licenses approved by open source proponents meet with the approval of free software advocates.

The open source philosophy is based on pragmatism rather than ideology. It promotes the notion that advocacy targeted at business should emphasize the technical merits and profitability of open (free) development models, rather than talking about ethical or political issues.

GNU Licenses

The GNU General Public License (GNU GPL) or General Public License (GPL) is one of the Most Commonly used Licenses In open Source Projects. It gives you the freedom to legally run, study, copy, modify and distribute the software for any purpose or any fashion.

Because GPL is a copyleft license it requires anyone who distribute your code or derivative and modified version of a work to make the source available under the same terms. That means you can add or remove any functionality without any worry if you want to use some of its code for your project yes you can. But only thing that you have to care about that project should be released under the same term i.e. GPL.

More precisely if anyone distributing a compiled program under GPL license than he must also provide the source code and is free to make modifications to the program. As long as those modifications are also made available in source code form. This guarantee that once the program is opened to the community it cannot be closed without the consent of every author of every piece of code even the modification within it.

Most Linux programs, Git, WordPress etc, are licensed under the GPL . so what the catch of using GPL

  1. Copy the software there is no limit to number of copies that you can make
  2. Distribute the software as you want by providing download link to your website or by writing on DVD/cd
  3. charge a fee or give them freely it totally depends on you
  4. And make whatever modification to the software you want

Another flavor of GPL

Many commercial companies do not wish to make the source code available publicly because doing so eliminate the trade secret protection for their own products. For that purpose another flavor of GPL is the GNU Lesser General Public License created. It is the lighter or weaker version of GPL.

LGPL made that clear when covered piece of software is used by another piece of software dynamically as a librarian function than LGPL software must be distributed under LGPL license and the commercial software which may communicate with that software dynamically can be distributed under The term of propertiorship or whatever license propertiory want.

BSD License

Not all open source license is viral and approach a copyleft license. In open source software perhaps the most common permissive open source license is the BSD license. BSD stands for the Berkeley Software Distribution an enhanced version of the original UNIX operating system.

A permissive license is simply a non-copyleft open source license that says the software may be freely used modified distributed so long couples of conditions are met. It allows people to do anything with your code with proper acknowledgment and without warranty.

Due to the nominal restrictions of BSD-style licenses, software released under such licenses can be freely modified and used in proprietary (i.e., commercial) software for which the source code is kept secret.

Apache License

The Apache License is also permissive, and allow express grant of patent rights from the contributor to the recipient. Because some licenses can be applied only to copyrights and not patents this flexibility would be an obvious factor in a developer’s choice of license.

Rights are never ending and irrevocable –

Once they’ve been permitted you can use them forever. in addition you need not to worry if you created something your own with source no one going to say that you can’t use it.

Rights are global

If you get the permission in your country it is valid in all other countries in the world.

Non Exclusive rights

Anyone can use an individual, group, and organization without any restriction.

No charge and royalty

There is no up-front usage fee that you have to pay nether you can take any fee or charges to ongoing usages of products from others.

Redistributing code also has special requirements, mostly pertaining to giving proper credit to those who have worked on the code and to maintaining the same license.

Creative Commons

Have you wonder how to download and share digital contents legally. How you let them people know to reuse your own work. Creative Common (CC) license help you to do both. However Creative Commons (CC) licenses aren’t absolutely open-source licenses, but they are commonly used for digital contents for instance a photo, Music track, documents and mostly design projects.

CC provides licensing tools that free to use you can apply a license to your work and profound your copy right. A CC license gives you the freedom to share, use, and build upon a work that they have created.

There are four basic parts and each have their own special symbols as well as it has several combinations that condition the terms of distribution.
open source licensing

  1. Attribution – its means when you publish any one work you must mentioned its creator name.
  2. Non-Commercial – No one else but creator is permitted to make money
  3. No Derivative Works – you cannot remix it as creator has not given permission to change it or modified its work.
  4. Share Alike – Give permission to share and includes the attribution role.

MIT License

The MIT License is a permissive and least restrictive one, the wording for which is short and to the point. It considered to be the most liberal than GNU License. It lets people do anything with your code as long as they provide attribution or credit back to you and don’t hold liable.

The MIT License basically says that anyone can do whatever they want with the licensed material you can use copy and modify the software No one can prevent you from using it on any project from copying it notwithstanding many times you want as long as you accompanied by the license.

There are also shared source licenses that have some similarities with open source, such as the Microsoft reciprocal License (MS-RL). These are mainly used by Microsoft and can range from extremely restrictive to being comparable with GPL.

Not choosing a license for open source software

Opting out of open source licenses doesn’t mean you’re opting out of copyright law. The absence of a license means that it’s automatically protected by copyright and you retain all rights to your source code and that nobody else may recreate, distribute, or make derivative works from your work.

You may grant some rights in cases where you publish your source code to a site that requires accepting terms of service For example, publishing code in a public repository like GitHub requires that you allow others to view and fork your code.


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Tapas Pal

Tapas pal is the founder of layerpoint.com and he is an avid Internet geek enthusiast and writer has deep interest in technology, Digital Marketing and love tools that increase human productivity.