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Demystifying Open Source and Creative Commons Licensing Models

written by: S. R. Obbayi•edited by: Eric Stallsworth•updated: 10/27/2011

There are literally dozens of open content licensing models and it wont be a surprise to know that you may be having trouble understanding open source and CC licensing. The good news is that it has all been explained here so keep on reading.

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    There are tons of various forms of content being produced on a daily basis throughout the world. This content could be in the form of images, video, audio, software, software source codes, articles, you name it, it is being produced.

    A significant amount of this content is put up with rules and regulations backing it in one form or another.

    As a consumer of this content, it maybe overwhelming or merely misunderstood on how this content can be used without being in violation of any laws. As a content producer you may want to reserve specific rights to your work and are not sure how to address this issue. That is where understanding open source and CC licensing (Creative Commons licensing) comes in handy.

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    Open Source License

    Open source licenses facilitate the author of a computer software program to make the source code available to everyone to use under certain conditions. Open source licenses which are usually free allow the end users to tamper with the source code so as to modify it or review it to meet their specific needs.

    It does not stop there. The open source license may grant the user permission to not only modify the source code but also to redistribute it for free or for commercial gain and not share the revenue with the original author.

    Again this is not as simple as it sounds, as you will see there is no single open source license. There are several, each with its own restrictions and requirements.

    The most commonly used open source licenses are those that are approved by the Open Source Initiative. We will take a brief look at the most widely used of the lot.

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    GNU General Public License

    gnu head GNU General Public License (GPL) could be described as a very restrictive open source license. GPL is the most commonly used open source license. GPL grants quit a number of rights to the contributors and also restricts how they can link their source code with other software.

    With GPL you can copy, modify and distribute software for commercial purposes or for free and share any modifications you have made to the software. With the latest version of GPL you can provide the source code in the form of a link to a website or a location where the source code can be accessed.

    If the source code is made available in physical media, GPL allows the distributor to charge a reasonable fee to cover the mailing and production costs. All distributions of derived GPL work must have the GPL license passed along with the work.

    GPL does not allow you to link to other non GPL software or source code. In the event that you do link to non GPL software or source code, the other code and software must adopt the GPL license.

    The good thing about the GPL is that it protects your code from being stolen and used on closed source or propriety software. The disadvantage on the other hand is that you may want to allow your open source software to accept ad-ons similarly used by propriety software but cannot because whatever you link to will have to adopt the GPL.

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    GNU Lesser General Public License

    Basically GNU Lesser General Public License (LGPL) is a GNU General Public License which has fewer rights on derivative work. The major difference here is that LGPL allows contributors to link with non-GPL and non-open source libraries and software. LGPL therefore does not require the other software it links with to adopt the GNU General Public License.

    One advantage this license has is that it allows you to create propriety software and use LGPL open source libraries without having to give up your propriety license.

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    BSD License

    BSD is a license that gives the user the right to distribute binaries with or without the source code as long as if it is distributed with the source code, it must contain the license with the copyright notice, the list of conditions and the disclaimer in the source files. If it is a binary distribution the same details must be contained in the documentation or other files and distributed alongside the binaries.

    These are the terms set in the Simplified BSD license which is also known as the 2-Clause license. The 3-Clause license which is also called the FreeBSD License or New BSD license, adds a clause that restricts the distributor from using the names of the contributors or the organization to endorse the derived software without explicit written permission.

    The good thing about the BSD License is that getting endorsements from previous contributors for your work can get you a great reputation. On the other hand you may miss out on being credited on a successful project because or the 3rd clause in this license.

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    Apache License

    The Apache license covers both patents and copyrights. With this license you are granted perpetual rights that are valid worldwide. Therefore they cannot be revoked once granted. Your license is given to you at no charge and is royalty-free. The Apache license allows you to redistribute, reproduce derivative works, publicly display and sub-license your work to others in either source or binary forms.

    Distributing of work under this license requires you to give a copy of the Apache license to the recipient. Any files modified must carry a prominent notice specifying that. You must retain a copy of the source of any derivative works. Unlike the BSD license, You must also give proper credit to contributors of the derivative work that includes yourself.

    This license is great in protecting your rights on your derivative work so it will be hard to receive legal action based on this license. Again the terms may work against you in the long term when you need to make changes to your derivative works for one reason or another.

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    MIT License

    The MIT license is probably the least restrictive of the major open source licenses. It basically allows the user to use the source code without limitations and restrictions whatsoever as long as the two paragraph MIT license and accompanying disclaimer is maintained on the source code.

    In short, if you use this license then you can give away the resulting software for free or sell it. You can use it on any project whether propriety or not and modify the source code how you want without sharing the modifications. With this license you do not even need to redistribute the source code with the resulting software.

    This license is great for those wanting to include other peoples libraries in propriety software without having to share the code. On the other hand this license could see other people get credit and huge rewards for work primarily done by you.

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    Creative Commons

    The Creative Commons license is a somewhat open source license commonly used for media, artistic, publishing and design works. With the Creative Commons license you keep the copyright but can allow people to distribute you work as long as they give you the credit.

    There are various ways you can distribute you work under the Creative Commons license and make it more restrictive. The types of variations to the Creative Commons licenses include:

    • Freedom to allow commercial use of your work or non commercial use of your work. This lets people can copy, distribute, display, and perform the work for commercial purposes.
    • Allow modifications to the work. This lets people copy, distribute, display and perform the work, as well as make derivative works based on it with further restrictions such as requiring the derived work to maintain the same license.
    • You can restrict the use of your work and its derivatives to certain geographical regions.

    A restrictive Creative Commons license is good in allowing you to spread your work while maintaining its original format and getting due credit for your work.

References

  • Open Source Licenses, www.opensource.org/licenses/index.html
  • Creative Commons, creativecommons.org
  • Image Credit, Free Software Foundation, www.gnu.org
  • GNU Project - Free Software Foundation (FSF), www.gnu.org/licenses/licenses.html