Seventhman Blog

Which Open Source Software License is Best for You?

"open source license"Software development is a mystery for many.  You don’t simply need coding skills to build a working application, but you also need to choose the best license for your code.  If you’re doing an open source software project, the more mind-boggling the task can be.  Depending on your needs, the best option is for you to find legal counsel.  I’m not a lawyer; maybe you’re not too.. and this post is not a legal advice either.  While compliance with these licenses look easy, the toughest challenge is choosing which OSS (Open Source Software) license fits your software project – especially when you want to invite collaboration or public involvement.

Open Source Software in a Nutshell

The Open Source Initiative is a non-profit organization founded in 1998 who are actively involved in promoting community, education and awareness of the importance of non-proprietary software.  They have defined the way open-source software is distributed in accordance with a set of criteria. In simple words, an OSS license allows the original author of the work to grant collaborators the right to copy, modify and redistribute the source code of the software project.  The original author retains the ownership of copyrights while allowing others to use those rights, so long as it’s within the conditions of the license.  The software IP law is constantly evolving as people and for-profit organizations become involved.

Open Source Licensing: Knowing the Facts

If there’s one thing you need to know about Open source, licensing is a key part and there are many types of licenses available as you can see on this list. If people are calling this as ‘free software‘ – know that it means the same thing, as in software released under a specific set of freedoms.  The term is older though, coined by the Free Software Foundation or FSF.  They may have different set of guidelines where the difference is only a matter of context and target audience.  For this reason, you may hear some people use both terms: ‘free and open source software’.  Since the list is long, I will introduce these licenses to you in two types:

Copyleft – by the word itself, this is the opposite of copyright.  This type of license allows the source code to be shared, used, modified, copied or redistributed so long as you use the same license as the original work.  For example, if you write the software and release it under GNU General Public License – and someone modifies and distributes it, the modified version must be under the same license.

Permissive – as the name implies, this type allows users to do more with the code.  You are giving people the freedom to use, modify and redistribute but this time, you allow them to add their own proprietary features to the code. A good example of this is the MIT License with applications like jQuery and Rails.  The drawback?  Some people may not want to contribute to help without compensation.

I barely scratched the surface here but no matter, please don’t call your program open source if you don’t have an approved license to go with it.  You will only confuse people.  You may get in touch with these licensing organizations to get more tips on how to get started.

Open source is great for those who want to take advantage of talents locally and globally to contribute value to the table.. and learn from them as well.  If done right, this can be a transparent and cost-effective way for you to make money.

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  • http://www.sonatype.com/ Jessica Dodson

    It’s very important to understand the subtle differences between these phrases because what you label something impacts how people perceive it. If the program itself doesn’t live up to the expectations of the user it leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

    • seventhman

      Thanks Jessica for sharing your insights; I have to agree with you though that setting expectations right will define happy, loyal users.