Open Source Software

Freely available libraries of open source software now contribute to rapid application development on all popular platforms, from programmable hardware, to PCs and mobile devices. However, the fact that open source software is in the public domain does not mean that open source software comes without restrictions.

  • Like other software, open source software is protected by copyright, and the open source license provisions determine for what purposes you may use the software.
  • Whilst you may have a right to copy and use the software for private purposes, exploiting it for commercial purposes can be less straightforward.
  • The open source license may require you to offer any software you build using existing open source software under an identical license, meaning that you may be unable to charge a fee for customers to use it.
  • However, sometimes the open source license will allow you to combine open source software with your own work without any prohibition on selling your package for profit.
  • On the other hand, it may be possible to combine open source software with your own work without triggering these license provisions, allowing you to sell the package for profit.
  • Alternatively you may be able to charge for access to work derived from open source software, for example if you supply a service over the internet.

These considerations make the use of open source software is both one of the most exciting, and yet one of the most daunting issues for developers.

Key issues when using open source software

Some key issues in using open source software are:

  • If you use open source software, will you need to offer your own product for free?
  • What are the international implications of open source software licenses?
  • If another party is breach of the open source software license under which you released your software, what action should you take?
  • Which open source software license is suitable for your specific circumstances?

As specialists in IT law we are ideally placed to advise on the implications of using open source software in your project.

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