Open Source Software Licensing is a copyright license specific to computer software which allows availability of the source code to everyone (Lee 1). The users should be able to modify and review the author’s source code to fit their own needs. The use of this software may have certain restrictions. The first is that it is a requirement that the names of the creative authors be preserved. There is also a copyright statement issued with the code. Licenses are usually free and the most popular set of these free licenses are approved by the OSI (Open Source Initiative). Examples of these licenses include: Apache License, 2.0; Affero GNU Public License; IBM Public License; and Mozilla Public License 1.1 (MPL). An example of Open Source Software (OSS) which is very popular is Linux (Lee 3). Defining Characteristics of Open Source Licenses.
The program under distribution should include the source code. It should also allow for its distribution both in its complied form and its source code. In case some form of the program is not distributed alongside the source code, there must exist a well-publicized way of downloading the code freely through the internet. There must also be no need for the use of a translator or preprocessor (Lee 11).
Integrity of Source Code
The authors of the source codes must not prohibit any files whether binary or source from modification. The license should openly permit the distribution of any software which has been built from the modification of the source code. Any derived works may be required to use a different version number or name from the original work (Lee 12).
The open source license must allow for derived works and modifications. In addition, they must be a provision which allows for their distribution under the same conditions and terms as the original software (Lee 12).
The open source license allows the users to give away or sell open source software. It guarantees freedom to change and share the software and ensuring that it is free for users.
The license should not discriminate against any group or person. Everyone should be able to use the software as long as they follow the provisions of the license (Lee 14).
Categories of Open Source Software Licenses
There are four general categories of Open Source Licenses. These are: Strong Copyleft Licenses; Weak Copyleft Licenses; No Copyleft Licenses; and Other Open Source Licenses (Fontana 10).
Strong Copyleft Licenses (General Public Licenses- GPL)
Copyleft is the main factor which differentiates between different Open Software Licenses. Copyleft is a requirement which dictates how modifications to original software are distributed. If the license has a strong copyleft orientation, anyone modifying the source code and redistributing must license these alterations to the public under similar terms to the original. This means that any private ownership of alterations to the copyleft software is given up. An example is Linux (Fontana 12).
Weak Copyleft Licenses
These are licenses where programmers creating or modifying this software are unwilling to give up complete ownership rights. The licenses therefore contain copyleft provisions which are weak or watered down. An example is the Mozilla Public License (MPL). This was created to distribute the web browser, Mozilla.
No Copyleft Licenses
The definition of pen source does not state copylefting as a requirement. An example is the BSD (Berkeley Software Distribution). BSD allows its users to redistribute whether free or for sale (by withholding the source code). They can also turn this software into software which is proprietary (relicensed for a fee). Other examples include the MIT License and Apache Software License.
Other Open Source Licenses
These licenses may combine various elements from different categories of licensing or contain additional features. Examples are the Academic Free License and the Artistic License.
Open Source License Compliance
Fontana insists that the use of the source codes under the provisions of the open source license presents minimal litigation and enforcement risk (13). Licensing term pertaining to source codes must be adhered to. There are two types of license requirements. These are notice requirements and source code requirements (Fontana 13).Notice requirements address the preservation of any legal notices while source code requirements give the vendor the option of either distributing the source code together with binary or the provision of a written offer to ship the source.
Open source software provides various benefits to users and businesses. While it is not immune to hacking attempts, open source offers security performance which is superior to proprietary software. Vulnerabilities are usually identified and fixed promptly. They also greatly reduce the costs associated with buying software while at the same time delivering quality software. Open-source software has played a major role in the development of the internet as we know it today.
Fontana, Richard. “Open Source License Enforcement and Compliance.” Computer and Internet Lawyer. 27.4 (2010): 1-13. Web. 21 Feb 2011. Available at
Joab, Jackson. “Linux Foundation Offers Open Source Compliance Checklist.” PC World. 20 Aug 2010. Web. 21 Feb 2011.Available at
Steve, Lee. “Open Source Software Licensing.” Havard University.28 April 1999: 1-15. Web. 21 Feb 2011. Available at