I’m happy to report that the 11th article in the Open Source Expanded column of IEEE Computer has been published.
Standardizing Open Source License Compliance With OpenChain
Cryptography, Distributed Databases, IEC Standards, ISO Standards, Legislation, Project Management, Public Domain Software, Software Development Management, Software Standards, Blockchain, Open Chain Project, ISO IEC JTC 1 PAS Transposition Process, Open Source License Compliance Standardization, Open Source Software, Standards, Licenses
Shane Coughlan, Linux Foundation
Computer vol. 53, no. 11 (November 2020), pp. 70-74
Over on Twitter, that endless source of distraction, Matt Asay asked: “Do developers care about open source?” Apparently, he is asking in response to an interview he had with a vendor who claimed that developers don’t care whether their service is available as open source (it is not). According to the vendor, developers just want to use a reliable service (and pay).
By all measures, the German Corona Warn app is already a highly successful software product. However, from the perspective of open source license compliance, it is defective. Using open source code in your product requires that you fulfill the obligations of the open source licenses of that code, and the Corona Warn app does not do that. Let me explain.
Open source code may be free to use, but it comes with strings attached, which are its licenses. An open source license spells out (1) permissions (you are allowed to use the code for free, among other things), (2) obligations to fulfill to receive the permissions (like giving credit to the original authors), and (3) prohibitions (for example, you are not allowed to claim endorsement of your work by the original open source programmers).
Open collaboration was popularized by open source projects, and since has made its way into wikis and Wikipedia, the mix and remix culture and open content, open educational resources, and so forth. Just what exactly is it?
Open source collaboration requires open communication, they say. Just what is open communication, exactly? Drawing on past research , here are the four principles that make communication open. Open communication is communication that is
Public: All communication takes place in the public eye, and none or very little behind closed doors; private side-discussions are discouraged.
Complete: All communication is complete to the extent possible. Assumptions are made explicit and conclusions of discussions are summarized.
Written: All communication is in written form, allowing folks to participate at their own pace; any non-written communication will be transcribed.
Archived: All communication is archived for search and later retrieval. This documents communication for those not around (or awake).
Another question I get asked is how containers and new architectural styles like microservices-based architectures relate to copyleft licenses, in particular the GPLv2 license.
First things first: I don’t recommend taking a “let’s work around this pesky license” approach. You should follow both a license’s spirit and letter; license evasion (“Umgehungsversuch”) may not hold up in court. Someone is trying to do you well, but only under certain conditions, so take it (properly) or leave it.
With that: If you package copyleft-licensed code in a container image and distribute this image, does the copyleft-licensed code affect any other container it communicates with?
Interpreting open source licenses requires considerable skills and experience. Ideally, engineers and lawyers work together: Lawyers know the meaning and consequences of legal terms, and engineers can make sense of it in the context of software. There are some basics, however, that help set your thinking straight.
A critical aspect is: What is a (re-)distribution ? You distribute code (binary or source, doesn’t matter), if you pass it on to another legal entity. Legal entities can be both regular people (“natural person”) or companies (“juristic person”). If the code does not cross such a boundary, it is not being distributed.