Open Source code is most likely used within your organization, covered by the legal language in special licenses designed for open source software (OSS). Black Duck Software, specialists in OSS logistics, state that there are 16 billion lines of code licensed under one of the most popular licenses, GPLv2 (General Public License, version 2) alone. I have to ask: as an IT Asset Manager, are you familiar with your organization’s policy on free and open source software (referred to as FOSS)? Assuming that you said yes, are you also familiar with how the permitted use of open source and free software is managed within your organization? It is possible that the low profile for open source concerns is going to change soon.
The expression that nothing is truly free applies in the current situation where requirements on how FOSS software is used and when it is shared and distributed are driving law suits. The course of these law suits is being watched as they test the language of OSS licenses and begins to define how copyright and patent law applies in these suits. While there are only interim decisions at this point in time, it is important to note that law suits between Ximpleware and Versata point to significant changes in open source expectations:
- As stated by Paul Reubens in his article “How Two Legal Cases May Decide the Future of Open Source Software,” “Whereas in the past a license infringement may have resulted in a knock on the door from an open source software foundation pointing out that things were not being done right, XimpleWare has made itself a commercial enforcer.”
- Software company Ximpleware sued Versata AND Versata’s customers for copyright and patent law infringement for software covered by the GPL v2 license, testing the extent to which responsibility extends.
- Contracts lacking language about the use of third party code should close that gap even if the company believes that there is no third party code in their product (Versata was surprised by Ximpleware’s code in their product).
To avoid unpleasant surprises, expand your knowledge and ask questions about how FOSS is managed and monitored. Read articles that explain the basics and then read guides such as “Copyleft and the GNU General Public License: A Comprehensive Tutorial and Guide,” and the “Practical Guide to GPL Compliance,”ver. 2. Articles like Mark Radcliff’s “GPL v2 Goes to Court: More Decisions from the Versata Tarpit” include action steps for you to review based on current events.