Linux Containers Authors: Zakia Bouachraoui, Elizabeth White, Liz McMillan, Pat Romanski, Stefana Muller

Related Topics: Linux Containers

Linux Containers: Article

Book Review: Open Source Licensing: Software Freedom and Intellectual Property

Book Review: Open Source Licensing: Software Freedom and Intellectual Property

According to Larry Rosen, "One of the challenges to writing about licensing in a book not specifically written for licensing professionals is to make a very dull subject interesting."

A Complete and Thorough Book

Rosen has met that challenge in his exciting guide to the Open Source licensing zoo. As an extra fillip he offers a set of five Open Source Principles so clear and brief that the Open Source Initiative (OSI) would be well advised to adopt them, plus two new licenses intended to solve not only the weaknesses of some of the current Open Source licenses, but resolve the many problems that revolve around the Free Software Foundation's (FSF) GNU General Public License (GPL) and Lesser General Public License (LGPL).

This clear book spends 314 pages in detailed discussion of more legal issues than this review can touch on. The author has the advantage of having trained and worked as a programmer and so as a lawyer he's not flummoxed by complex technical issues. He's also uniquely qualified by his long tenure at the Open Source Initiative, where he served as general counsel and as executive director, participating in many discussions there on licensing and building a wealth of experience to mine for this book. Everyone involved at all with Open Source software should read the first three chapters of this book as background to understanding the larger issues, and the remainder of it should be mandatory for all people and firms actually producing Open Source software, whether as coders or managers.

The book approaches licenses in chronological fashion, showing early starts and subsequent improvements. To oversimplify, in the beginning, the BSD license imposed no limits on the licensee; the MIT, or X license, added clear copyright language; and the GPL required that code be shared. Subsequent licenses have added patent defense and warranties of code provenance. Over 15 years later we are faced with dozens of licenses and conflicting opinions (none of them judicial) about how software developers and firms are supposed to stitch together code to meet their terms.

The book is quite lucid since Rosen takes the reader through the basics such as the fact that different laws apply to the intellectual property (IP) of software and the to tangible copies of software, that copyright doesn't protect the ideas in software (patents do that), and that there's a difference between a (bare) license and a contract (containing a license). Along the way important points emerge: although a bare license (like the GPL) can be revoked because it's not a contract for which consideration has been received (typically a payment), the law would recognize that the user's dependence on the software substitutes for that consideration, so that in practical terms the license couldn't be revoked (p. 56).

More fascinating for Open Source developers is the discussion of joint works versus collective works: if developers agree among themselves (contract) to undertake a project, then as owners they can each license the entire joint work to others as they individually see fit; if there's no such contract, the work is a collective work (a collection of unmodified pieces), each of which is under its author's respective license. Most Open Source projects are joint works, and generally speaking Rosen sees no reason for the typical project to assign copyrights rather than retain them individually. In the case of a collective work, the collector is the author and can license and distribute it, but only if he has a distribution license from the authors of the constituent pieces.

Neither joint nor collective works are derivative works. A derivative work is a new work that's based on a pre-existing work. The author of a derivative work can license and distribute the derivative work provided he has a license for the pre-existing work that gives him the right to create a derivative work and distribute that derivative work. These distinctions are of crucial importance to Rosen's views on the Free Software Foundation's interpretation of the GPL.

The heart of his book, however, is Rosen's relentless categorization of licenses into types such as template licenses (Apache, BSD, MPL) that can be used by others simply by changing the name and the most important division, academic versus reciprocal licenses. Briefly, academic licenses originated at institutions of higher learning (Berkeley, MIT) and sought to provide the widest possible distribution for the software they cover; there are no real restrictions on its use, rewriting, and dissemination. Reciprocal licenses (most famously the GPL) require that anyone distributing the software offer the source code for the entire work as it's distributed, including all the changes. Rosen regards academic/reciprocal as the heart of the software freedom that is most likely to lead to rapid technological advance and increased productivity for everyone.

More Stories By Donald Rosenberg

Longer bio:

Donald K. Rosenberg is president of Stromian Technologies, a marketing consulting firm specializing in OEM software licensing and Open Source licensing and marketing issues. He is the author of Open Source: The Unauthorized White Papers, (Wiley), a book taking a business approach to Open Source software, now on the Web at ftp://ftp.novell.com/pub/forge/documents/Open%20Source:%20The%20Unauthorize
Don has twenty years of marketing experience and has worked with companies large and small in the U.S. and Europe, both in Open Source and
proprietary software licensing and marketing. Besides consulting on
these issues, Don has given talks about them at USENIX, ALS, Linux.SYS-CON.com (San Francisco, Frankfurt/M), Wizards of OS (Berlin), CeBIT (Istanbul), Comdex (Las Vegas, Basel), and in Taiwan and Slovenia. His column, Rosenberg's Corner, deals with Open Source and business issues.

Shorter bio:

Short bio:

Donald K. Rosenberg assists software companies with licensing and business/marketing strategies at Stromian Technologies and wrote Open Source: The Unauthorized White Papers, (Wiley), a book taking a business approach to Open Source software, now on the Web at ftp://ftp.novell.com/pub/forge/documents/Open%20Source:%20The%20Unauthorize

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.

IoT & Smart Cities Stories
@CloudEXPO and @ExpoDX, two of the most influential technology events in the world, have hosted hundreds of sponsors and exhibitors since our launch 10 years ago. @CloudEXPO and @ExpoDX New York and Silicon Valley provide a full year of face-to-face marketing opportunities for your company. Each sponsorship and exhibit package comes with pre and post-show marketing programs. By sponsoring and exhibiting in New York and Silicon Valley, you reach a full complement of decision makers and buyers in ...
There are many examples of disruption in consumer space – Uber disrupting the cab industry, Airbnb disrupting the hospitality industry and so on; but have you wondered who is disrupting support and operations? AISERA helps make businesses and customers successful by offering consumer-like user experience for support and operations. We have built the world’s first AI-driven IT / HR / Cloud / Customer Support and Operations solution.
LogRocket helps product teams develop better experiences for users by recording videos of user sessions with logs and network data. It identifies UX problems and reveals the root cause of every bug. LogRocket presents impactful errors on a website, and how to reproduce it. With LogRocket, users can replay problems.
Data Theorem is a leading provider of modern application security. Its core mission is to analyze and secure any modern application anytime, anywhere. The Data Theorem Analyzer Engine continuously scans APIs and mobile applications in search of security flaws and data privacy gaps. Data Theorem products help organizations build safer applications that maximize data security and brand protection. The company has detected more than 300 million application eavesdropping incidents and currently secu...
Rafay enables developers to automate the distribution, operations, cross-region scaling and lifecycle management of containerized microservices across public and private clouds, and service provider networks. Rafay's platform is built around foundational elements that together deliver an optimal abstraction layer across disparate infrastructure, making it easy for developers to scale and operate applications across any number of locations or regions. Consumed as a service, Rafay's platform elimi...
Two weeks ago (November 3-5), I attended the Cloud Expo Silicon Valley as a speaker, where I presented on the security and privacy due diligence requirements for cloud solutions. Cloud security is a topical issue for every CIO, CISO, and technology buyer. Decision-makers are always looking for insights on how to mitigate the security risks of implementing and using cloud solutions. Based on the presentation topics covered at the conference, as well as the general discussions heard between sessio...
Growth hacking is common for startups to make unheard-of progress in building their business. Career Hacks can help Geek Girls and those who support them (yes, that's you too, Dad!) to excel in this typically male-dominated world. Get ready to learn the facts: Is there a bias against women in the tech / developer communities? Why are women 50% of the workforce, but hold only 24% of the STEM or IT positions? Some beginnings of what to do about it! In her Day 2 Keynote at 17th Cloud Expo, Sandy Ca...
New competitors, disruptive technologies, and growing expectations are pushing every business to both adopt and deliver new digital services. This ‘Digital Transformation’ demands rapid delivery and continuous iteration of new competitive services via multiple channels, which in turn demands new service delivery techniques – including DevOps. In this power panel at @DevOpsSummit 20th Cloud Expo, moderated by DevOps Conference Co-Chair Andi Mann, panelists examined how DevOps helps to meet the de...
According to Forrester Research, every business will become either a digital predator or digital prey by 2020. To avoid demise, organizations must rapidly create new sources of value in their end-to-end customer experiences. True digital predators also must break down information and process silos and extend digital transformation initiatives to empower employees with the digital resources needed to win, serve, and retain customers.
In his keynote at 18th Cloud Expo, Andrew Keys, Co-Founder of ConsenSys Enterprise, will provide an overview of the evolution of the Internet and the Database and the future of their combination – the Blockchain. Andrew Keys is Co-Founder of ConsenSys Enterprise. He comes to ConsenSys Enterprise with capital markets, technology and entrepreneurial experience. Previously, he worked for UBS investment bank in equities analysis. Later, he was responsible for the creation and distribution of life ...