Dirk Riehle's Industry and Research Publications

Open source legal debt

Open source legal debt is unwanted open-source code in your products and projects.

Code may be unwanted, if it does not fit your (a company’s) business model. An example is code that has been copied from StackOverflow into your code base. That’s because code from StackOverflow has a copyleft license, which means that as you distribute your software, you can only use the license StackOverflow uses, not your own. According to this license, those who receive your software are free to pass it on, for free, and you can’t do anything about it.

On a personal level, this may not be a problem. For most companies, however, it is a problem.

Once companies realize the issue, they may quietly want to remove all such legal debt from their code base. But first, they have to find the unwanted code. This is a laborious task! Even with the most advanced (read: highly expensive) tools, this task will keep your developers busy for weeks, if not months. While your developers are cleaning up legal debt, they are not writing new features. They are removing legal risk rather than creating customer value.

Fortunately, the task of analyzing a code base for legal debt does not require the original developers. 90-95% of the work can be delegated to less expensive personnel. To that end, my company Bayave GmbH is offering appropriate and well-priced services. Check them out!

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