Open Source Software is Ok to Use

Several year end deals bogged down over open source code. The reason is buyers have a punch list which says no open source code. This makes sense at first because risk managers do not want the dreaded software that provideds a free license grant for everyone. The standard General Public License (GPL) open source license requires you to grant all your development to the open source community. The software is free with a significant catch. This causes problems because most companies do not want to give what they do away. 

So, the risk managers issue an edict no open source code in purchased software. This is not a bad point to start with but there should be a rosetta stone explaining when the edict does not apply. Why? For starters, the grant back license only applies to developments made on the open source. If you are only using the object code of an open source product, you have no concerns with the grant back clause.

When you use a Linux operating system, you do not have to give away all the work you do. The use point may not solve all concerns with open source, but if you are only using the object code, you probably have no grant back problems. 

The best approach is to provide the buyer with a list of all open source software and licenses.  Then they can go through and see if the open license agreements cause problems. In fact, open source license may not even be GPL and may not require a grant back for development. Sellers and buyer beware, the only way to determine the license requirements is to read the license. Assume there is no standard usage. Even when the software says it is GPL, there may be wonderful exceptions. See for example . Ecos is a popular open source runtime system. It is licensed under GPL with a significant exception: 

As a special exception, if other files instantiate templates or use macros or inline functions from this file, or you compile this file and link it with other works to produce a work based on this file, this file does not by itself cause the resulting work to be covered by the GNU General Public License.

Plain as day. Well your technical folks can let you know if that exception saves the day. It usually does with Ecos. So, the next time you run into the No open source software edict, read the licenses! If you are only using the object code, you probably have no problems at all. 

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Adron Law

Adron Law offers small to mid-sized tech companies legal support in the software licensing and service universe.

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