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Today, open source software is widely used as a common method of publicly disseminating software within the community. However, software licenses based on intellectual property rules is easily overlooked. According to Github, the number of their approved public repositories has never exceeded 25% after 2009. Understanding these licenses and making the right decision for an initiative will turn them into instruments that can aid the intentions and ambitions of the project's developers.
Any intellectual property is patented by default. It must be permitted for a non-copyright holder of software to freely access, modify, and distribute it. Open source licenses can be divided into two categories; Permissive and Copyleft.
Both permissive and copyleft licenses allow contributors to modify and distribute the software. Permissive licenses tend to have lesser restrictions than the latter. It allows developers to do practically anything including making the software proprietary (not share software's modifications). In order to use the software, generally a contributor only needs to provide an attribution and a warranty disclaimer that shows the code used is not the responsibility of an author. Permissive licenses are meant to put developer's intentions first, granting them any power to modify and distribute the code the way they want to. Thus, this license is generally chosen when the goal is to have the software shared and used as widely as possible while making the developer's life as easy as possible. Popular licenses are MIT, X11, BSD, and Apache 2.0 (w/ patent grant clause).
MIT and BSD are very similar in terms of content and level of freedom they give to the users. MIT license allows users to do anything they want as long as the original license is included in the derivative.
The Apache license has a similar philosophy, but includes parts about patents and trademarks making it commercially favorable. When changing the Apache code, one must notify the author, and protect the original trademarks of the author from being used in derived software. There is a patent license grant which protects the author from patent trollers.
'If You institute patent litigation against any entity (including a cross-claim or counterclaim in a lawsuit) alleging that the Work or a Contribution incorporated within the Work constitutes direct or contributory patent infringement, then any patent licenses granted to You under this License for that Work shall terminate as of the date such litigation is filed.'
Copyleft software entails that the software, unlike copyright, when copied, can be freely distributed as open source. Strong copyleft ensures that software remains copyleft and open-source throughout, while weak copyleft allows for the license to change. Permissive copyleft licenses allow open-source software products to mix with closed-source products, while strict licenses prohibit mixing with closed products.
There are three categories restrictive or strict copyleft; GPL, LGPL and AGPL. Broadly, GPL relates to issues about the product, LGPL entails issues concerning libraries, and AGPL concerns matters regarding network services. The three categories are briefly discussed below.
GPL allows for reuse of the source code to make other works (derivatives), but one needs to license that derivative under GPL in case they wish to distribute the work. Under GPL, the source code has to be supplied to users alongside the product. In GPL, the distribution of the source code alongside the product does not include the network codes.
LGPL has a weaker copyleft when compared to GPL. LGPL license requires that sharing of the source code is based on LGPL as opposed to the entire source code. LGPL is more of a library routine, whereby mere modification of the library code, the code has to be released alongside the product, in the same manner as GPL. When the source code is overwritten, it does not need to be released.
AGPL behaves in the same manner as the GPL only that the conditions are initiated by distribution of the derivative works. In AGPL, unlike in GPL, the network codes are distributed alongside the source code, and the derivative work.
Open source software is extensively used today. Open source has ensured that software is freely made available for use and modification to the community. However, various licenses govern the mode of operation and distribution of the products, the source codes and the derivative works that result from modifications. The various scenarios have been see to create different licenses, though overly under the open source blanket. Permissive and copyleft licenses, the two broad categories of open-source differ in restrictions imposed on the products, the source codes and the derivative works. Permissive licenses favor the developer's intentions and allow for wide sharing of the software. These licenses include MIT, X11, BSD and Apache 2.0. Copyleft software also allows for free distribution of product and code, and is guarded by various restrictions. The restrictions which are governed the distribution of the source code and the product, result into tree major types of these licenses; GPL, LGPL and AGPL.
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