Thursday, March 9, 2017

Licensing Obligations - Copyleft or Viral Requirements

Copyleft or Viral Requirements:  These requirements are either some of the most onerous in the open source world, or they are the reason open source has flourished.  It is really just a matter of perspective.

At its most basic, copyleft (a play on the word copyright) terms require that a consumer who uses an OSS component to create any manner of derivative work, or perhaps causes such a component to be redistributed to others, or both, to license the entire resulting work product under the terms of the copyleft license at issue.  This attachment of terms and conditions is sometimes why these licenses are referred to as viral in nature.

There are many nuances to these licenses depending on specific use cases and one's interpretation of their obligations.  However, there is agreement among professionals attempting to navigate these waters that it can be tricky at times.

Examples include:
  1. GNU GPL - version three found here
  2. GNU LGPL - version three found here
  3. GNU Affero GPL - version three found here
  4. OSL - version three found here

Corporate OSS consumers tend to be wary of these licenses with reciprocal terms because they limit an entity's ability to exploit the code for commercial purposes.  Conversely, those who choose these licenses to protect their intellectual property tend to do so exactly for the same reason, so that the code remains freely available for anyone to use, consistently available under the same licensing scheme without fear that later iterations will be walled off into some unacceptable proprietary licensing framework.

I am firmly convinced these  licenses have their place within the OSS ecosystem.  However, it is imperative that individuals or organizations which contemplate using code subject to their terms fully understand both the freedom of use and reciprocal obligations which accompany the intellectual property in question.


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