Wednesday, December 7, 2016

OSS License Types (Part 1 of 3) - Permissive Licenses

I like to create frameworks for recurring risk analysis scenarios in order to follow consistent processes as well as allow me to establish a baseline from which to improve quality and or efficiency whenever possible.

One of the primary inputs for an open source software governance framework is of course the applicable license(s) to any given component under scrutiny.  I like to group OSS license types into three primary categories to begin my review process:
  1. Permissive licenses
  2. Corporate licenses
  3. Reciprocal licenses
This first post in the license type series will elaborate on the permissive license category.

Permissive licenses are sometimes called academic licenses since many of them originated at educational institutions.  Examples include:
  1. BSD (2 clause and 3 clause) - Berkley Software Distribution
  2. MIT - Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  3. AFL - Academic Free License
  4. Artistic License - originally written for PERL

These licenses share a common characteristic in that downstream obligations are generally not burdensome.  As such, components subject to a license in this category tend to be easily compatible with most any use case scenario in academic, corporate or government arenas.  Typical obligations include:
  1. Accept absence of warranty or liability
  2. Acknowledgement of earlier contributions
  3. Inclusion of license file(s) in downstream distributions
While each license is somewhat unique and should be carefully considered to ensure full compliance, as a category they tend to share common provisions regarding retention of copyright protections for their subject matter along with express disclaimers of the normal warranties.  Other than such basics, the licensed software is generally made available for most any purpose including the often desired right to include as a component in the preparation of derivative works.

On a practical note, these licenses are so brief and common that they are often found embedded in an open source project readme.txt or license.txt file and not, for example, explicitly labeled as an "MIT" or "BSD 3-clause" license.  They could even be included within a source code header or comment section.  This does not change their nature, but it is helpful to learn to recognize them quickly in order to save time.


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