Open Source License Compliance in Free Mobile Apps

Open source license compliance is not for the faint of heart. Among many things, a company needs to tell the recipients of a distribution which open source software is used in their products. In the case of mobile apps, free or not, the user is the recipient and the app is the distribution. Downloading an app from the app store makes me a user. Lets see what we can learn about open source using an example app.

The following four screenshots show how I made my way from finding an app through installing and starting it. I could not find any information about the distributed open source code along the way.

After logging in, I finally found the open source licenses and further legal notices under Settings > About (hi Doug! ;-))

I think there is room for improvement here. Most open source licenses insist that their legal notices be easy-to-find and accessible without restrictions. Here, I couldn’t get to the information before starting the app and logging in, which (most likely) puts the app out of compliance. At this point in time, the distribution event has long taken place and I should have been able to get to the information without barrier before. Hiding it behind a login may please the product manager but not the open source developer.

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