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I need to understand open source software

Open Source Software. It’s a term that makes lawyers’ hair stand on end* and is widely misunderstood.  It’s also a fact of life.  Rare will be the software program licensed that doesn’t contain at least some software that is subject to the open source licensing regime.

If you are working with a developer to create a project, and you plan to own the end product, it’s important to know what open source software is embedded in your project. It is unlikely that you can avoid having open source altogether – many of the platforms upon which developers build fall under that regime.

Open source does not mean “commercially free,” although you will occasionally see it referred to as “free software.”  It also does not necessarily mean that anyone can do absolutely anything with it, with no restrictions. (“Open source” connotes lifting many of the copyright registrations, but says nothing about patent or trademark rights.  You can read about the differences here.  What it does mean is that the source code is always public, so that anyone can access it, modify it, and re-distribute it.  In other words, your project will not be entirely and exclusively yours. Open source still relies on licensing, so that if a person wants to re-distribute an open source program, they must include the original copyright notice and they may only be charge for the cost of reproduction and distribution, and not sell it commercially.  The reason it is important to know what open source software is included in your project is to know what licenses apply. Some are pretty innocuous, but some may “infect” a whole program, so that nothing in the program remains proprietary.  The licenses are all supposed to contain a basic set of terms, but they do vary widely.

If you’re a developer selling products written with open source or a customer of a developer like that, contact us.   We’ll help you know what you’re getting into and minimize the consequences.

*It’s not that we’re against it. It’s just complicated!

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