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Dealing with open source licenses

If my company is analyzing open source products, what should we know about licenses? Are there OS licenses that are just no good, and so we should reject a program is offered on that license? What's a good OS license? What are the difficulties of using OSS with several licenses? Will management be a problem?

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OSS licensing is a challenging topic, because there are no cut-and-dried answers. Open source licenses vary in what they require of the user, and the requirements can also vary according to what use is made of the program the license accompanies.

In general, one can say that risk of license complications increases as an organization modifies a product (rather than using it as-is) and also if the organization distributes the product. There are no "good" or "bad" licenses; rather there are licenses more or less appropriate depending upon what use you plan to make of the licensed product. Mixing licenses can impose challenges, but these challenges are by no means insurmountable.

To understand what risks your organization may be faced with, you have to analyze your circumstances; so it is impossible to make any blanket statement without knowing those circumstances.

This was first published in February 2005

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