Posted by: John H. Jones | April 22, 2012

Corporate-Friendly Open Source Licenses – Beware, not all software is truly free, some can come with a barb

I have been doing some research on the different types of Open Source licenses.  The following is a good posting that quickly summarizes the potential dangers of Open Source to corporations.  You just have to know the rules but as with all software, you need to live by the license agreement.  The funny thing is that GPL touts “freedom” but it is a rather restricted “freedom”.  it has all the ring of truth of the double speak/thought from the book 1984 by George Orwell.  Now I am all for Open Source in the corporate environment but you have to be careful, especially beware of AGPLv3.

Corporate-Friendly Open Source Licenses

What open source licenses are more corporate-friendly, i.e., they can be used in commercial products without the need to open source the commercial product?

I recommend the Apache License (specifically, version 2). It is not a “copy left” license and it addresses several matters that are important to established companies and their lawyers.

“Copy left” is the philosophy of the free software foundation requiring anything incorporating the licensed opens source code to also be licensed as open source. That philosophy is regarded as poison by established companies that want to keep their products proprietary.

Aside from not having “copy left” provisions, the Apache license specifically addresses the grant of rights from project contributors and it expressly addresses the fact that modern companies are typically made up for more than one legal entity (for example, a parent company and its subsidiaries). Most open source licenses don’t address these points.

Whatever license you choose, if you want your code to be “corporate friendly,” in the sense that you want it to be incorporated into commercial, non-open source products, it is essential that you avoid GPL and other “copy left” type licenses. While it would be best to consult with your own lawyer before investing time or money in a project for which this is an important factor, a quick shorthand for licenses that are and are not “copy left” can be found on the Free Software Foundation’s website. They identify which licenses they don’t find meet their standards as “copy left.” The ones FSF rejects are most likely the ones that will be corporate friendly in this sense.

(Although the question didn’t ask this, it is worth mentioning that, with very few exceptions, even GPL and other “copy left” type licenses are perfectly corporate friendly if they are only used internally by the commercial entities and not incorporated into their products.)

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  1. John,

    Good points and the Apache license is a great license. However, the first question you need to ask is “what is a sustainable business model for this project?” The answer to that question will then lead you to the right open source license. For example, if you own all the code to a project and you want to keep control of that project, then you pick the GPL. But, if what you want to do is build an entire ecosystem around an open source core platform, then you pick either the Apache License of the Eclipse Public License (EPL). The ecosystem will grow because those licenses are commercially-friendly which means that everyone gets to collaborate on the core, yet they can create add ons to the core that are proprietary thus giving the developer the ability to license that particular add on.

  2. Roger, that is well put. That is how I see it as well. Dotnetnuke is a great example of having a thriving ecosystem. I find myself ending up at what used to be to purchase add-ons for my dnn site like going to Home Depot for home repair DiY tools. I love both of those places.

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