Free and Open Source Software Licensing

datePosted on 16:02, June 15th, 2010 by headgeek

Last week I tweeted (@indyscompugeek) asking for suggestions of topics to blog about. I was hoping to, and did, receive several suggestions. Most of the suggestions revolved around using Open Source, free software and Linux based solutions for the start-up or the established business.

So, to answer these requests, I’m going to take the next few days introducing various free and Open Source software tools that may help you and your business. In fact, my next blog entry will be on the OpenOffice Suite, available for Windows and Linux, as well as a few other operating systems, such as the Mac OS X.

But before diving into that, let’s discuss a few things the business owner should know about Open Source, Linux and FOSS (Free and Open Source Software).

Software usage is governed by the idea of a usage license. When ever you install an application, such as Microsoft Office, you will be presented with a screen requiring you to accept the terms of the EULA or End-User License Agreement. (Just to make things clear, I am NOT, in any way a legal expert, but I do know a few things about software licensing. Your mileage will vary.) The EULA, such as one from Microsoft usually states, pardon my para-phrasing, that you do not own the software, despite having paid for it, you have no rights regarding that piece of software except those granted to you by the EULA and the manufacturer or distributor of that software, who holds the other end of that license can revoke your permission to use that software, at any time with return in compensation for the revocation. Many EULA’s go on to state that the vendor of the product makes no warranties that the software will do anything it has been advertised as being capable of.

FOSS (Free and Open Source Software) usually contains a license agreement as well. FOSS licenses are usually based upon the GPL or GNU Public License. Again, para-phrasing here, the GPL suggests that the software you are about to install is available to you. You do not own it, but it is yours to use as you see fit. Also as a part of the GPL, you have access to the source code of this application, making it possible for you update, upgrade, or modify the application to suit your needs. But there is a caveat in this license. If you make a change to the source code of the application, which you got for free, you are expected/asked to GIVE those modifications back to the Open Source community.

In a nut-shell and probably less than legally para-phrased, that is software licensing. There are other licenses out there, Creative Commons has one, but I have not read the entire agreement. If you have any questions about your or your organizations exposure due to software licensing, contact legal counsel who actually knows something about Intellectual Property rights and software licensing.


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One Response to “Free and Open Source Software Licensing”

  1. Crystal on June 15th, 2010 at 4:45 pm

    Excellent overview of software licensing. While I’ve never read the fine print of any EULAs, probably because I knew if I did, I would either:
    a) obtain a headache from all the legal jargon
    b) request a full refund and go open source.