Splendid Insights

Open source licensing

A guide to open source licensing

Open source software has become indispensable in organisations everywhere. However, there are still licensing issues to consider. Let’s get started.

More and more organisations are seeing the benefits of open source. However, it’s not always clear what forms of licenses are used. General software licensing terms and conditions, whether commercially licensed software or open source software, can get confusing, so it’s worth taking the time to understand what you’re signing up for.

Let’s start at the beginning

The license is what makes the software code, or parts of it, open source. If the software code doesn’t contain a reference to an open source license, it’s not usable for third parties. You should also have access to the software code and check whether it’s actually open source licensed software.

Examples of open source licenses

Right now, MIT, GNU GPL and Apache are the most widely used open source licenses. Of these three, MIT is the most widely used form of licensing. It’s good to know that any kind of open source license is a legal and binding agreement between the developer (author) and the user and comes with its own conditions of how the software can be used in commercial applications.

Things to watch out for

There are also instances where software is only partially open source licensed, often just the core, with additional parts commercially licensed. It’s why you need to check what the commercial license actually does, and doesn’t create a vendor lock-in.

If the software is offered on a subscription basis, a monthly or annual license model, a fee is usually payable in advance for the right to use software during the subscription period only. As soon as this ends, the right to use the software expires and must be removed. This really is the worst form of vendor lock-in, as you can’t pay for a one-off fee for a perpetual license.

Pure 100% open source

If software really is 100% open source, it’s offered on a subscription basis. This often means that additional services, such as release management and support services are offered. But a key difference to the above is that if the subscription is terminated, only the right to use the services expires, but not the right to use the software – and the software should not be removed.

Please take the time to read the small print and don’t assume that all open source agreements are the same.

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