An economically efficient model for open source software license compliance

Jonathan MathewsPublic

An economically efficient model for open source software license compliance

“The Compliance Industrial Complex” is a term that evokes dystopian imagery of organizations engaging in elaborate and highly expensive processes to comply with open source license terms. As life often imitates art, many organizations engage in this practice, sadly robbing them of the many benefits of the open source model. This article presents an economically efficient approach to open source software license compliance.

Open source licenses generally impose three requirements on a distributor of code licensed from a third party:

  1. Provide a copy of the open source license(s)
  2. Include copyright notices
  3. For copyleft licenses (like GPL), make the corresponding source code available to the distributees

(As with any general statement, there may be exceptions, so it is always advised to review license terms and, if necessary, seek the advice of an attorney.)

Because the source code (and any associated files, e.g. license/README) generally contains all of this information, the easiest way to comply is to simply provide the source code along with your binary/executable application.

The alternative is more difficult and expensive, because, in most situations, you are still required to provide a copy of the open source licenses and retain copyright notices. Extracting this information to accompany your binary/executable release is not trivial. You need processes, systems, and people to copy this information out of the sources and associated files and insert them into a separate text file or document.

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