An open-source license is a type of license for computer software and other products that allows the source code, blueprint or design to be used, modified and/or shared under defined terms and conditions. This allows end users and commercial companies to review and modify the source code, blueprint or design for their own customization, curiosity or troubleshooting needs. Open-source licensed software is mostly available free of charge, though this does not necessarily have to be the case.
Licenses which only permit non-commercial redistribution or modification of the source code for personal use only are generally not considered as open-source licenses. However, open-source licenses may have some restrictions, particularly regarding the expression of respect to the origin of software, such as a requirement to preserve the name of the authors and a copyright statement within the code, or a requirement to redistribute the licensed software only under the same license (as in a copyleft license). There have been debates about whether open source licenses, which permit copyholders to use, transfer and modify software, have adequate consideration to be viewed by the courts as legally enforceable contracts. While some academics have argued that open source licenses are not contracts because there is no consideration, others have argued that the significant societal value provided by the role that open source licenses play in promoting software development and improvement by facilitating access to source code offers adequate consideration.
One popular set of open-source software licenses are those approved by the Open Source Initiative (OSI) based on their Open Source Definition (OSD). Open source licenses dictate the terms and conditions that come with the use of open source software (OSS). Open source licenses serve as a legal agreement between open source author and user: authors make OSS available for free, but with certain requirements the user must follow.
Generally, open source license terms kick in upon distribution of your software — if you only use an open source component for an internal tool, for example, you probably won't be bound by requirements that would otherwise apply.
The Free Software Foundation has related but distinct criteria for evaluating whether or not a license qualifies software as free software. Most free software licenses are also considered open-source software licenses. In the same way, the Debian project has its own criteria, the Debian Free Software Guidelines, on which the Open Source Definition is based. In the interpretation of the FSF, open-source license criteria focus on the availability of the source code and the ability to modify and share it, while free software licenses focuses on the user's freedom to use the program, to modify it, and to share it.
Around 2004, lawyer Lawrence Rosen argued in the essay "Why the public domain isn't a license" that software could not truly be waived into the public domain and can't therefore be interpreted as very permissive open-source license, a position which faced opposition by Daniel J. Bernstein and others. In 2012, the dispute was finally resolved when Rosen accepted the CC0 as an open-source license, while admitting that contrary to his previous claims, copyright can be waived away, backed by Ninth Circuit decisions.
- Comparison of free and open-source software licenses
- Free-software license
- Jacobsen v. Katzer – a ruling which states that legal copyrights can have $0 value and thereby supports all licenses, both commercial and open-source
- List of free-content licenses
- Open-source model
- Open-source software
- Proprietary software
- Software license
- Open source license litigation
- List of free and open-source software licenses
- List of copyleft software licenses
- List of permissive software licenses
- "Brief Definition of Open Source Licenses". Open Source Initiative. Retrieved April 25, 2013.
- Popp, Dr. Karl Michael (2015). Best Practices for commercial use of open source software. Norderstedt, Germany: Books on Demand. ISBN 978-3738619096.
- Haumba, Eric Nelson (2018). Open Licensing Models for Strengthening Access to Information: Opportunities for Authors. YMCA Library: Uganda Textbook-Academic and Non-Fiction Authors Association- UTANA. ISBN 9789970428052.
- Hillman, Robert; O'Rourke, Maureen (January 2009). "Rethinking Consideration in the Electronic Age". Hastings Law Journal. 61 (2009): 313–14, 328–35.
- Stallman, Richard (18 November 2016). "Why Open Source misses the point of Free Software". The GNU Project. Retrieved 1 October 2018.
- "Relationship between the Free Software movement and Open Source movement", Free Software Foundation, Inc
- Lawrence Rosen (2004-05-25). "Why the public domain isn't a license". rosenlaw.com. Retrieved 2016-02-22.
- Placing documents into the public domain by Daniel J. Bernstein on cr.yp.to "Most rights can be voluntarily abandoned ("waived") by the owner of the rights. Legislators can go to extra effort to create rights that can't be abandoned, but usually they don't do this. In particular, you can voluntarily abandon your United States copyrights: "It is well settled that rights gained under the Copyright Act may be abandoned. But abandonment of a right must be manifested by some overt act indicating an intention to abandon that right. See Hampton v. Paramount Pictures Corp., 279 F.2d 100, 104 (9th Cir. 1960)."" (2004)
- Lawrence Rosen (2012-03-08). "(License-review) (License-discuss) CC0 incompliant with OSD on patents, (was: MXM compared to CC0)". opensource.org. Archived from the original on 2016-03-12. Retrieved 2016-02-22.
The case you referenced in your email, Hampton v. Paramount Pictures, 279 F.2d 100 (9th Cir. Cal. 1960), stands for the proposition that, at least in the Ninth Circuit, a person can indeed abandon his copyrights (counter to what I wrote in my article) -- but it takes the equivalent of a manifest license to do so. :-)[...] For the record, I have already voted +1 to approve the CC0 public domain dedication and fallback license as OSD compliant. I admit that I have argued for years against the "public domain" as an open-source license, but in retrospect, considering the minimal risk to developers and users relying on such software and the evident popularity of that "license", I changed my mind. One can't stand in the way of a fire hose of free public domain software, even if it doesn't come with a better FOSS license that I trust more.
- The Open Source Initiative
- An online version of Lawrence Rosen's book Open Source Licensing: Software Freedom and Intellectual Property Law (ISBN 0-13-148787-6).
- Understanding Open Source Software – by Red Hat's Mark Webbink, Esq. — an overview of copyright and open source.