Open Source Licenses

By: Carol Vercellino, CEO & Co-Founder

When developing software, you make a lot of big decisions. But choosing your open source license is up there as one of the most important decisions you’re going to make during the development process.

So, today we’re going to talk about open source licenses.

What are they? Why should you care? And which one will be the best fit for your project when it comes to commercialization.

Let’s dive in.

What is an open source license?

An open source license is a software license for your open source software. It tells you how it can be used and the rules that govern how you use it.

How is open source typically used in projects?

A lot of times you see labyrinths and frameworks that are open source that you might want to use in a software application.

Basically, the licensing for those comes down to two different kinds. There’s a permissive licensing and a more restrictive licensing. The more restrictive licensing will say that if you use  an open source project in your application, then you have to open source the whole application. The GPL is the main one that you’ll see with those restrictions. 

So, that’s a concern people have when they use open source software in a commercial closed source application. You have to ask, can I use this library – this other piece of code – in my application and still be able to sell it commercially – without giving up all the source code?

What are the top open source licenses? 

There’s the GPL, which is probably the most popular restrictive one. Then, other ones you might hear are, the MIT license and the BSD license. Those are much more permissive –  you can use the software in your closed source software.

There may be details like, if you make changes to the library, then you need to open source those, but you can still have a closed source application you sell, including these open source libraries under the MIT and BSD license.

Apache is another one of those more permissive licences. 

GPL is where you want to check with lawyers because it has some very specific limitations. If you’re using a GPL application as part of your software, and it talks to other pieces over the network, then maybe that’s okay.  But the GPL is definitely something you want to stop and take a harder look at to see if that’s going to work for whatever model you’re distributing. 

Another sort of weird thing about the GPL is it says you only have to open source things you distribute. So, if you’re a big company building something internally, then maybe that’s okay because you can use it internally without having to distribute source code.

Which open source license is best for commercialization? 

The most straightforward one is the MIT license. We have a few open source things and they’re distributed under MIT. That basically says, here’s some software, you get to do with it what you want. There might be a clause about attribution. That’s really the most permissive, so there are no restrictions.

**The above interview has been transcribed for clarity and brevity.**

Ready to learn more about software development? Here’s how to choose a programming language for your product.