Saturday, October 10, 2015

Software Licensing Overview (Open Source and Closed Source)

This is a cross-post from Lockboxx!! Read dat shiiii

The world of Free Software licenses and Open Source Software licenses can be massive and confusing, compiled with the endless Proprietary Software licenses (regardless if Commercial or not), it can be hard to understand from a distance. I wanted to take a second to set aside some general high level categories with examples in each camp, to give people a general / quick idea of what a license might mean and which direction they want to head. I don't mean to water down the huge world of open source software licenses, but simplify peoples approach and understanding. It should also be noted that while I am a fan of law / ethics / philosophy in computer science, I am not a lawyer. I also found a really great site to help me make my choice.

Highly permissive software licenses:
These licenses generally provide free software with few constraints on derivative works:
Unlicense
WTFPL
MITBSD
Apache 2.0

Copy Left software licenses:
Most of these have some requirement of derivative works having the same software license agreement or similar qualities:
GPL
GNU GPL 2.0
GPLv3
Mozilla Public License 2.0

Highly restrictive / special conditions licenses:
These are typically representative of specific service agreements between two individual parties:
No License (same as Copyright)
EULAs (End User License Agreements)
Proprietary software licenses

What really started this conversation for me, was that publishing public code on Github didn't give other Github users the rights I thought it did. For example, code published on Github (based on Github EULA) without a license gives other Github users the right to view and fork the code, but beyond that the code is protected under Copyright, potentially scaring many developers away. I also feel like a big part of understanding software licensing is understanding the history of software licensing. At the end of the day the choice is yours and you should make the choice based on protecting and propelling the software you care about into the world.