Here are some of the misunderstandings around open source software that I hear every day.Â Feel free to add your own!
- The most important thing is whether you modify the code or not.
I keep hearing from people, “we’re ok because we didn’t modify it.”Â OrÂ they create a policy that doesn’t allow anyone to modify open sourceÂ code because then they think they are risk free.Â I agree, modifyingÂ open source software may cause a support problem, but it isn’t whatÂ triggers anything special in the license.Â The GPL says that if youÂ make modifications to the software, you have to distribute thoseÂ modified source code files with your binaries.Â But it is theÂ distribution that triggers that clause, not the modification.Â So ifÂ you distributed the binaries unmodified, you’d have to distribute theÂ source code.Â And if you linked statically to those GPLed binaries,Â you’d have to distribute your source code as well.Â But only if youÂ distributed your product.Â If you are using it in house, it reallyÂ doesn’t matter whether you modified it or not.Â Except from a supportÂ perspective.
- If you modify GPL code, you have to give the modifications back to the project.
I highly recommend you do give your modifications back – it’s the nice,Â neighborly thing to do.Â It also makes your life easier to be using theÂ standard version and not your own forked version.Â However, you don’tÂ have to give those modifications back.Â You only have to give the
modified source code to anyone you give the binaries too.Â Now noteÂ that they can give that modified source code to anyone they want, whichÂ brings me to the next point.
- Distributing GPL code under an NDA does not count as distribution.
I’m not an attorney, and it hasn’t been taken to court yet, but I thinkÂ most attorneys would agree with me that distributing GPL code under anÂ NDA not only counts as distribution but the recipient can give that GPLÂ product to anyone they want to under the terms of the NDA regardless ofÂ what your NDA says.Â It’s not a risk I would take.
- If you are only using open source software internally, you don’t have to worry.
First I’d argue that nothing used internally stays internal – what ifÂ you share with a partner or sell a group to another company or â€¦ ThatÂ said, many licenses have clauses that trigger on something other thanÂ distribution.Â Sometimes they are simple, sometimes they aren’t.Â ForÂ example, one says that you have to buy a copy of the book for everyÂ developer on the team. Regardless of whether you redistribute or not.
- Anybody can sue me for using open source wrongly.
Only the person that owns the copyright for a piece of software can sueÂ you for violating the license.Â Typically, the person that owns theÂ copyright is the person that wrote the code.Â They can however giveÂ that copyright away.Â They can even give it away and keep it forÂ themselves so that two people hold the copyright.Â The copyright holderÂ is also the only person that can change the license on a piece ofÂ software.Â (Note that this is why SCO lost – in the end the court ruledÂ that SCO didn’t hold the Unix copyright.)
- There is no support for open source. First off,Â lots and lots of products are open source.Â The support options varyÂ widely from the do it yourself variety to multiple companies competingÂ for your business.Â Â The problem is you have to do a lot of research – the products’ nameÂ doesn’t give you a direct clue to the company that supports it.Â AndÂ you might come up with more than one name and have to compare severalÂ companies.Â But there are lots of people and companies out thereÂ supporting open source software.
- Freeware and Shareware are open source. FreewareÂ and shareware are not open source.Â All things free are not openÂ source.Â Just because it’s free, doesn’t mean it’s open source.Â TheÂ freeware and shareware licenses are very different and do not meet anyÂ of the traditional open source guidelines like providing source code,Â allowing modification and redistribution.
Got any others?