A Researcher’s Perspective on “Do Developers Care About Open Source?”

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).

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The German Corona Warn App, a Legally Defective Product?

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).

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What is Open Communication?

Open source collaboration requires open communication, they say. Just what is open communication, exactly? Drawing on past research [1], 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).
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The GNU Public License v2 in the Land of Microservices

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?

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How to Read Open Source License Obligations

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.

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Open Source License Compliance and Work-for-Hire

A common question that I am asked in my seminar on license-compliant delivery of products that contain open source software is:

But what about a work-for-hire? We are a consulting company: As we work for our clients, and use open source software, do we have to create all those legal notices?

The answer, as so often is: It depends. With that, let’s tease the different situations apart.

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Managing Your Open Source Supply Chain—Why and How? (Nikolay Harutyunyan, IEEE Computer Column)

I’m happy to report that the eigth article in the Open Source Expanded column of IEEE Computer has been published.

TitleManaging Your Open Source Supply Chain—Why and How?
KeywordsOpen Source, Software Supply Chain
AuthorsNikolay Harutyunyan, Friedrich-Alexander-University Erlangen-Nürnberg
PublicationComputer vol. 53, no. 6 (June 2020), pp. 77-81

Abstract: More than 90% of software products include open source components, most of which are not directly added by your own developers. Instead, they are an inseparable part of the software supply chains that virtually all companies depend on. This article covers the related risks of ungoverned open source use and provides industry best practices to practitioners.

As always, the article is freely available (local copy).

Also, check out the full list of articles.

Why I Gray-listed Github for Open Source

Most of my software development is through my professorship, where I guide my student teams in developing (mostly) open source software. We have clear rules in place for how and which open source can be used in our projects and which can’t, like any competent organization. Mostly, it is about license compliance. We owe this to the users of our open source projects as well as our industry partners.

As a small organization, we rely on rules rather than lengthy approval processes, component repositories, and the like. One rule is to look at the source (location) of the open source project and see whether we have it white-listed, gray-listed, or black-listed. The Apache Software Foundation website is white-listed and Stackoverflow is black-listed. Github is gray-listed, meaning “it depends”.

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