Does your business use open source software? Most businesses use some form these days, but using open source software can open up some legal IP trouble if it’s used improperly. Let’s take a look at what open source software is and how it can trip you up.
Source code is the programming instructions that are turned into programs. Anyone who has the source code can, with the right tools, turn it into a working program. It’s like a recipe. A closed source program means that this recipe is secret. The code for Microsoft Windows, for example, is closed source. If you had a copy of that, you would be guilty of IP theft.
Many people think open source code is the opposite, but it’s not. Open source does mean that the source code is open to others to examine and modify, but that doesn’t mean that you’re free to do anything you want with it. Most open source projects are licensed under certain licenses that allow developers to copy, modify, and even sell products based on the code, but only if certain conditions are met.
Businesses must understand the implications of using, modifying, or developing open source software under these licenses in order to avoid IP trouble in the future. For instance, a particular license may allow you to sell commercial products, but it may disallow you from making it proprietary to your company. Under the license of the original code, you may have to open the code for people outside your company.
A great place to start educating yourself is the website for the Open Source Initiative at opensource.org. A list of popular open source licenses and their details is available for free on the site, as well as educational material about the concept of open source software. You can also speak with Greenberg & Lieberman, LLC to talk about your compliance with open source licenses or any other questions about IP protection.