Open Source Software Licensing

One of the most contentious legal debates today centers around the role of copyrights in the United States legal system.  There are some who believe our copyright protections are not strong enough while others believe these protections reach too far.  People in the second camp have created open source licensing, which allows software programs and source code to be shared more easily.  Outside of software, Creative Commons is a way to freely share copyrighted materials with others through free licensing agreements.

In its own words, Creative Commons is “a nonprofit organization that enables the sharing and use of creativity and knowledge through free legal tools.”  They provide license templates for copyright owners to share the use of their works with others.  Additionally, their website acts as a repository for these works so aspiring content creators can integrate the works into their own creations.

Creative Commons licenses will commonly have custom provisions such as prohibiting commercial use or requiring the author receives credit.  Copyright owners can also choose whether to permit derivative works or not.  The licenses have three layers.  First is the Legal Code, which is the traditional license language intended to be understood by lawyers.  The next layer is the Commons Deed.  The Commons Deed is not technically part of the license, but serves as a reference guide for people who are not trained to read legal documents.  The third and final layer is the CC Rights Expression Language, a summary of the license readable by software and search engines.

Many large entities have embraced Creative Commons.  The list includes Flickr, Google, Nine Inch Nails, Wikipedia, and Al Jazeera launched its own Creative Commons Repository where they post videos under the Creative Commons license.  Most of the videos were shot in Gaza where few other media outlets have a strong presence.  Because the videos were covered by the Creative Commons licenses they were able to shared more easily.

Open source licenses allow different users and programs to collectively work on a software program or project without fear of one party reaping all the benefits.  Typically open source licensed software is free for all users, but that is not always the case.  These licenses may have some restrictions to preserve the identities of the original authors but provisions prohibiting distribution are discouraged in an open source license.

One of the biggest proponents of open source licensing is the Open Source Initiative (OSI).  The OSI is a non-profit corporation which advocates the use of open source licensing on a global scale.  The OSI maintains the Open Source Definition which is the industry standard for what constitutes open source.  They establish ten criteria: free distribution, available source code, allowance of derived works. Integrity of the author’s source code, no discrimination against people or groups, no discrimination against fields of endeavor, distribution of license, and the license must not be specific to a product, restrict other software, and must be technology neutral.

If you are considering creating a license under Creative Commons and need to weigh your options, you can contact Stone Law at 732-444-6303 or leave us a message on our website.  We can assist you with licensing or any other copyright concerns.