Skip the navigation

Open-Source Software: The Next Big Legal Battles

By Diane Peters, OSDL
July 12, 2005 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - The past few years have been interesting, if not complicated, for CIOs and senior IT executives at companies using Linux and other open-source software. Some have been threatened with lawsuits (first publicly, now quietly, behind closed doors). They've been forced to dissect a steady flow of fear, uncertainty and doubt emanating from some whose business models are threatened by the growing success of Linux and open-source, and they are expected to understand and comply with the growing corpus of open-source software licenses.
The good news is that most lawsuits have not materialized; executives dissecting the FUD have consistently concluded it is just that, a campaign to engender fear, uncertainty and doubt; and a dialogue in earnest has started on the question of license proliferation. Linux and open-source software are more widely used than ever before. Momentum is growing. The issues are being successfully navigated.
So the question naturally arises, What should we focus on next? The answer: software licenses and software patents. These are two of the most important legal issues the industry will address in the coming years. How these issues are resolved will have a defining impact on the success of Linux and open-source software. These are the issues to which the entire IT community should devote its attention, energy and resources.
Like it or not, as the debates take shape, IT managers will need to have a basic understanding of the legal issues in play. They need to know how the possible answers to questions of patents and licenses could affect their businesses, their decisions and their development teams. As general counsel for the Open Source Development Labs (OSDL), I work with a variety of large, medium and small vendors and customers of open-source software. These two issues are the most important facing those vendors and customers. These are the issues that I am working to help resolve over the next few years.
Software Licenses
There's little doubt that the growing number of open-source software license types has the potential to work against the long-term success of open-source software. Understanding your company's rights and ensuring its compliance with a single software license can be challenging enough -- that's true whether the license involves proprietary or open-source products. The challenge and corresponding risks can increase, however, when several different licenses conveying different rights and imposing distinct, sometimes conflicting, obligations are in the mix.
Fortunately, many of the licenses approved by the Open Source Initiative (OSI) are compatible, work seamlessly with one another and are familiar to large numbers of developers and companies. In addition,



Our Commenting Policies