Overview over different licenses

Hi,
I am working for a software shop with 50 employees (30 devs).

I work on the backend (Linux, Python, Nginx…), the other devs work on the software we sell, which is a proprietary Windows software.

I’d like to raise awareness and give a 30 minute talk about what kind of licenses are out there and what is allowed and what not, e.g. embed a js lib or c lib, or some snippets you find on StackOverFlow…

Also, what consequences are there when our company releases software under a free license?

Can you point me to some good resources?

Thank you.

Hi,
I am working for a software shop with 50 employees (30 devs).

I work on the backend (Linux, Python, Nginx…), the other devs work on the software we sell, which is a proprietary Windows software.

I’d like to raise awareness and give a 30 minute talk about what kind of licenses are out there and what is allowed and what not, e.g. embed a js lib or c lib, or some snippets you find on StackOverFlow…

This is a huge topic :-)

A good starting point is actually the relevant Wikipedia page [1].
Also, the Wikipedia page on license compatibility [2] for combined
works is of interest.

The Free Software Foundation also has an extensive resource on
free software licenses [3]; especially a commented list on many
existing software licenses linked therein [4] and their respective
(in)compatibilities. Recommended.

That said…

Also, what consequences are there when our company releases software under a free license?

… the temptation (among us nerds, at least) is to focus too much
on the technical aspects. Yes, if you incorporate third-party material
in your distributed work, you should have a look into their respective
licenses (regardless of whether you’re “doing” free software or not),
but the “soft” aspects are much more important than the technical ones.
After all, the technical part is just an instrument to help one achieve
some goals, and those goals have to be clear in the first place.

For example, if you choose a free license for your product, you are
giving up some control over it (more so if that license is of the
copyleft type). I’ve watched discussions around releasing a product
under a free software license which went around in circles because
the primary goals (and the conflicts among them) were not clear
between the participants. Clever schemes were proposed to keep some
control over the product, thus negating the advantages of a free
licensing. By stubbornly focusing on technical aspects there was
no way to address the underlying problems and break out of the
endless loop. A very frustrating experience, which typically ends
with overly baroque schemes of dual licensing nobody really
understands (not that I’d dismiss dual licensing right away,
there are actually working examples out there – but you better
know what you want to achieve before trying to tackle such a
complex thing).

So questions to try to address beforehand may be

  • why are we choosing a free license? Is it a question of social
    responisbility? Or do we want to ease the collaboration in a
    bigger (e.g. a group of companies) entity?

  • Which kind of control do we want to exert on our product, on
    its users? Can we live with the possibility that someone takes
    our product, improves it (e.g. by building a service around
    it) and “runs away” with it?

    This is a realistic scenario. For some insights on the conflicts
    involved, you may venture a look into MongoDB relicensing [5];
    they are trying to cope with the fact that e.g. Amazon is making
    lots of money on their product without “giving back”. For another
    take on this, see CockroachDB [6] – they tried another (IMO
    “better”) “solution”, still not pretty, since both approaches
    threaten the substance of what free licensing is about.

There are also the practical aspects. What does your company expect
from the move to a free license? In my experience, small companies
have the most difficulties practically deriving “value” (I don’t
mean just monetary value!) from such a move. Good chances arise
when doing a collaborative project, together with other small
companies.

I hope I could give you some leads. Let us know how your talk
goes :-)

Cheers

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_software_licenses
[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/License_compatibility
[3] https://www.fsf.org/licensing
[4] https://www.gnu.org/licenses/license-list.html
[5] https://lwn.net/Articles/768670/
[6] https://lwn.net/Articles/790307/

– tomás

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