You need to have an understanding about any type of unique software you use to run your business.
Here's a primer, but remember, a lawyer can explain this in more detail.
Most programmers have used some form of library, function, framework, or other piece of code that was already written. After all, why reinvent the wheel? Software licenses are attached to each of these pieces of code, explaining what your rights are in using these code snippets.
Unlike patents that are granted by governments and protect inventions, copyright protects original, creative works, such as literature, music, or art. Software licenses are a form of copyright protection. There are many types of software licenses, and a breach of these licenses can result in severe consequences when licensors sue users of their code. These suits often result in ample work for intellectual property attorneys.
Here’s an overview of the different types of software licenses you should know about before you use someone else’s code.
When software is in the public domain, anyone may use, modify, and redistribute the work without restriction. Note that software without any license attached is not automatically in the public domain.
Permissive licenses allow the uses to use, modify, and redistribute the software.
The MIT license is the most permissive and allows anyone to use the software “without restriction, including without limitation the rights to use, copy, modify, merge, publish, distribute, sub-license, and/or sell copies of the Software.” However, the user must include a full copyright notice.
The BSD license is similar to the MIT license but requires that any advertising or promotional material also reference the original work. Furthermore, the user must obtain the copyright owner’s permission for endorsement of the derivative work.
The Apache License allows for free use of the work, even commercial use. However, a notice of change must be included in any modified work, and all the original copyright and other attribution notices must remain.
GNU Lesser General Public License (LGPL)
The GNU LGPL license allows users to link to open source libraries. However, if any of the code is modified or used (besides linking), then the user must use a similar license on the derivative work.
Unlike the previous types of licenses above, copyleft licenses are restrictive and were created to maintain the open source nature of software and its derivatives. Any work that uses work protected by the General Public License (GPL) must release their software under the same license, which allows anyone to use, modify, and redistribute the work. So all source code must be made available to users.
Proprietary licenses do not allow the code to be modified or redistributed, i.e. “all rights are reserved.” Most commercially-sold software is protected by this type of license, such as Microsoft Office.
If you’re unsure which type of license to use on your software, LawChamps can connect you to an attorney who can help.
This article is intended to convey generally useful information only and does not constitute legal advice. Any opinions expressed are solely those of the author, not LawChamps.
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