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Saturday, September 24, 2011

Using Open Source Software in Developing Your Own

A question from a software developer was posted yesterday. The question was:  

Hi. I'm a software developer and have questions about open source. We use an open source text editor for our content management system which we then release as open source CMS (content management system), and also use the OS (open source) editor to create custom software to deploy to enterprise. I was informed that since the text editor we use is open source (under GPL or GNU General Public License), we should also license our CMS as GPL, even the one deployed to enterprise. Is this correct?

Brief Answer: If the open source (OS) text editor you are using is licensed under the GNU General Public License (GPL), then yes, you will need to distribute or convey any work you create using that text editor under the GPL as well. If the OS license is different, check the terms of the license.

The GPL is useful for many but not all business purposes. There are many other open source licenses available, and you may want to see alternative open source text editors that have non-GPL licenses (see below)  that may be more appropriate for your business.

Full answer: You should check which version of the GPL applies. But the basic copyleft concept of the GPL is that if you modify someone else's software that is covered by a GPL, then you are required to distribute your own work based on that software under the same terms and conditions, i.e. your own work must also be made available under the GPL.

To illustrate, version 2.0 of the General Public License (GPLv2) states: 
"6. Each time you redistribute the Program (or any work based on the Program), the recipient automatically receives a license from the original licensor to copy, distribute or modify the Program subject to these terms and conditions. You may not impose any further restrictions on the recipients' exercise of the rights granted herein. You are not responsible for enforcing compliance by third parties to this License" (emphasis supplied)

Similarly, version 3 of the GPL (GPLv3) states:
"5. Conveying Modified Source Versions.
You may convey a work based on the Program, or the modifications to produce it from the Program, in the form of source code under the terms of section 4, provided that you also meet all of these conditions:

  • xxx
  • c) You must license the entire work, as a whole, under this License to anyone who comes into possession of a copy. This License will therefore apply ... to the whole of the work, and all its parts, regardless of how they are packaged." (emphasis supplied)

If licensing your own work under the GPL is inconsistent with your business or commercialization strategy (i.e. you want to distribute your own work under different terms and conditions), you should scout around for text editors that are available under alternative open source licenses. Other OS licenses that are not as restrictive as GPL include:

1 comment:

  1. another good project would be a skins or theme creation tool so that we can all create themes easily.


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