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"Understanding Open Source & Free Software Licensing": A Straightforward Guide to the Complex World of Licensing

September 21, 2004

Sebastopol, CA--Open source and free software models have made tremendous contributions to computing: thanks to the licenses supporting them, they make it easier for developers to assemble teams for creating code, and allow developers to reuse code or fix bugs in the code. These licenses promise users applications without price tags and reduce the impact of a vendor leaving the business. But despite all the benefits, many developers shy away from working on open source or free software projects because they don't understand the implications of the various licenses. Licensing issues are complicated, and both the facts and fallacies one hears word-of-mouth can add to the confusion.

"The ideas underlying open source and free software are growing in importance every day," explains Andrew M. St. Laurent, author of Understanding Open Source & Free Software Licensing (O'Reilly, US $24.95). "The results achieved by the Linux operating system and Apache webserver software are just two examples of the already widespread use of software developed under these licenses. The open source model of software development is genuinely competitive with the proprietary model in many areas of development, and may even supplant the proprietary model in large areas of software development in the coming years."

St. Laurent's book helps developers and other interested readers make sense of the different options available to them. The book focuses on annotated licenses, offering an in-depth explanation of how they compare and interoperate, and how license choices affect project possibilities. Written in clear language that you don't have to be a lawyer to understand, the book answers such questions as: What rights am I giving up? How will my use of OS/FS licensing affect future users or future developers? Does a particular use of this software--such as combining it with proprietary software--leave me vulnerable to lawsuits?

According to St. Laurent, the book is written to be easily accessible by non-lawyers: "I've made every effort to keep 'lawyer-speak' to a minimum and to avoid abstract legal discussion that wouldn't mean anything to non-lawyers. For instance, I've avoided long discussions of esoteric legal doctrines or proposed laws that are not yet effective and probably never will be." As St. Laurent says, this sets his book apart from the competition. "Someone can pick it up and look at the Apache license, for example," he adds, "and get a good understanding of that license in just a few minutes without having to read the entire book or skip around to different sections."

Understanding Open source & Free Software Licensing discusses copyright, patent, and warranty issues, and explores how to choose among the licenses, the implications of working on projects where someone else has already chosen the license, and the liabilities created by violating license terms. With this book in hand, St. Laurent notes, "Those who are interested in open source and free software licensing will be able to make intelligent, informed choices about how they want to license new programs or contribute to ongoing open source and free software projects."

The book tackles the spectrum of licensing, including:

  • The MITBSD, Apache, and Academic Free Licenses
  • The GNU General Public License (GPL) and Lesser General Public License (LGPL)
  • The Mozilla Public License (MPL)
  • The Artistic License, Perl License, and Q License
  • Creative Commons 1.0 and 2.0 Licenses
  • Sun Community Source License and Commercial Use Supplement
  • A concise guide to licenses, Understanding Open Source & Free Software Licensing bridges the gap between the open source vision and the practical implications of its legal underpinnings. If open source and free software licenses interest you, this book will help you understand them. If you're an open source/free software developer, this book is an absolute necessity.

    Additional Resources:

    Understanding Open Source & Free Software Licensing
    Andrew M. St. Laurent
    ISBN 0-596-00581-4, 193 pages, $24.95 US, $36.95 CA
    1-800-998-9938; 1-707-827-7000

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