Open Source Software – Licensing Issues or Not

The Wikipedia Encyclopedia describes open source as “practices in production and development that promote access to the end product’s sources. magnet fishing rope Before the label open source was coined, developers and producers used a variety of phrases to describe the concept. In fact, earlier researchers used a process which is similar to open standards to develop telecommunication network protocols. Characterized by contemporary open source work, this collaborative process led to the birth of the Internet in 1969. Its application to software gained popularity with the emergence of the Internet. It is said that the open source label came out of a strategy session held at Palo Alto, California, in reaction to Netscape’s announcement that it planned to release the source code for its browser Navigator.

The politically correct version is that to clarify a potential confusion caused by the ambiguity of the word “free”, so that the perception of free software is not anti-commercial, the label open source (contributed by Chris Peterson) stuck. The official version is that it was to shed the confrontational attitude that had been associated with free software in the past and sell the idea on pragmatic, business case grounds to the commercial world. Whatever it may be, Netscape listened and released their code as open source under the name of Mozilla. That was the beginning of the contemporary open source movement, whose main champion today allegedly is the Open Source Initiative (“OSI”) which makes and continues to make a case for the open source software to the commercial world. Consequently, we have seen the application of the open source philosophy in other fields including biotechnology. Linus Torvalds, a finnish software engineer who initiated the development of the Linux kernel went as far as saying “the future is open source everything”.

According to the OSI, the case for open source software is simple – free access to read, redistribute and modify the source code of a piece of software results in a rapid evolutionary process that produces better software. Advocates of open source argue that when programmers can read, redistribute, and modify the source code for a piece of software, the software evolves. People improve it, people adapt it, people fix bugs. And this can happen at a speed that, if one is used to the slow pace of conventional software development, seems astonishing.

However, evangelists of free software have been at pains to clarify that open source software is not synonymous with free software. The philosophy of the open source movement is based on practicality and not ethical considerations while free software is based on freedom, not price. Borrowing from Richard M. Stallman, “free software” and “open source” describe the same category of software, more or less, but say different things about the software, and about values. While the two are not synonymous, both have a common enemy – proprietary software.

Critics of open source say that open source fosters an ambiguity of a different kind, in that it confuses the mere availability of the source code with the freedom to use, modify, and redistribute it. But open source doesn’t just mean access to the source code; the use of open-source software must comply with a number of criteria including as to re-distribution, depending on the license under which it is distributed. Different licenses require different criteria. For instance, under the GNU General Public License (GPL) published by the Free Software Foundation (FSF) for licensing free software, any work based on the program or any other derivative work must be licensed as a whole at no charge at all to all third parties under the terms of the GNU GPL, whereas an Apache License does not require derivative works to be open source. You can add your own copyright statement to modifications of a source code under Apache License and provide additional or different license terms and conditions for use, reproduction, or distribution of your modifications, or for any derivative works as a whole, provided your use, reproduction, and distribution of the work otherwise complies with conditions of the Apache License. Similarly, there is no requirement that any derivative work created under an Academic Free License (AFL) or a Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD) License, should be distributed at all, or for free if distributed. Further, any derivative work need not be free and one can charge for it as you would for proprietary software.