Software Licenses : Legalese to English

When I was doing a licensing survey in the Fedora ecosystem. I asked a few developers, "What is license according to them?" I got some interesting answers:

"I do not care about the license; it bores me." - a super senior developer says this. (not a very good example to follow)

"You have to fill up the name of a license to make the package in Fedora unless they won't accept the package" (sadly)

"License is something that protects your code." (Ahh finally some optimism)

The answer appeared as a ray of hope to me that yes, there are developers (still) who do care about code ( both their code and law).

But most of the developers (if not all) see licenses as long, huge legal documents filled with complicated words and some never-ending sentences. There are certain tags that people tend to associate with licenses like: MIT is permissive, GPL is strict, BSD is secure. Instead of going through the license document itself, developers choose the license for their project; based on these mental tags, they tag to it.

From today I am going to start a series to explaining different kinds of software licenses. The series will translate legalese into English. Together we will try to understand the Licenses and it's permissions one by one.

Before that, let us know what Open Source License and why it is essential?

Open Sourced software or hardware is the software or hardware that released under open source licenses. Open Source Licenses grant certain Intellectual Property Rights, in this case, Copyright, to their users.

The phrase Open Source software or hardware points to a software or hardware which

  • has its source code, design open and available to anybody and they can
  • examine,
  • modify
  • enhance and
  • share.

Open source projects products and communities based on the ethos of

  • collaboration, open and free exchange, and community sharing. Which results in a transparent process and better product or process. Open source Licenses stand in opposite to Closed Source/ Proprietary Licenses. For the last few years, there has been a surge in the usage of Open Source Licenses because

  • the product, process, or initiative is having open source licenses believed to be secure and stable.

  • the community has the control behind it.

  • the collaborative efforts produce a better product.

  • trains the programmers, designers to be better at their job through mentorship and community efforts.

Licenses lie at the very core of the Open source and Free Software community. But though many times we say “Open Source” and “Free and Open Source”(FOSS) in the same breath. But they are very different from each other, in the permissions and restrictions.

Choosing a license a developer marks the limit of its product, selects the community he wants to work with. So it is of utmost importance for them to know well. From the next post of this series, we will thrive to that goal.

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