29 October 2011

OpenFest 2011


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Image: OpenFest website

Next weekend, on the 5 and 6 November 2011 I will be attending OpenFest 2011.

OpenFest has been organised annually since 2003 as  a conference dedicated to free culture and the free sharing of knowledge.
As such, the event mainly attracts visitors interested in or involved in the process of creation or marketing of free and open source software.

While the most visitors are expected to be from Bulgaria, OpenFest is designed to be an international event and its organisers have once again managed to invite a good amount of international speakers.

If you would you like to know to what extent

you may charge for free and/or open source software

then you should not miss the presentation in the form of a lightning talk, which I will be giving there.

In a strict accordance with the conference`s purpose, the admittance shall be free.

10 February 2011

Why You Are Free To Charge For Open Source Software


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Courtesy to dff-jisc http://www.flickr.com/photos/dff-jisc/

Open source software is free and we all know that, do we not? It’s intriguing, but for a long period of time I have considered to blog on that subject since many have asked me over and over again what is this “free” supposed to mean and whether they can offer open source software against payment.

In order to answer their question, I first had to determine what “free” meant.

When we speak of free software, we are referring to freedom, not to price.

This is what the Preamble of the GNU General Public License V3 says. Why GNU/GPL? Well, simply because it is estimated to cover at least 60% of all  open source software, which makes it the most important and widespread license. So, following the GNU/GPL “free” is to demonstrate the freedom to access, modify and distribute software and not to necessarily express “for free” in the sense of, say, free beer.
Thus, GNU/GPL turns out to be the license that describes what “free” is supposed to mean and does it with disarming clarity. The other relevant open source licenses, such as MPL, EPL or Apache, tend to rely on the rather legal term “royalty-free”. And this  brings us to the next point:

Free Vs Royalty-Free

In above licenses (and in copyright law in general), the term royalty-free means that once the software is licensed, the licensee is free to use and distribute it without owing additional royalty payments to licensor or distributor.
Nevertheless, this does not prevent the licensor or distributor from charging an initial fee for distributing or otherwise making the software available to a licensee. Besides, a fee is commonly justified with the provision of, inter alia, well-written documentation and professional support services. In fact, this represents the ground for various business models run by commercial undertakings such as Red Hat or Novell.

Outcome

In all brevity, if you like to utilize a software under an open source license by charging something for it, you are just free to do it.

 

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18 January 2011

Open source governments


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Video: The DoD makes it official: open source IS commercial software.photo © 2010 opensource.com | more info (via: Wylio)

In the course of my work I am here and there asked to advise on open source software (OSS) matters. But for whatever reason, since the beginning of 2011 I had to almost daily read, write or listen to something related to OSS. In the most cases, the OSS in question was somehow connected to a use in the public sector. So, I decided to write a blog article on that.

For the mere sake of clarity and for those readers not familiar with what open source software is – take a look at the definition issued by the Open Source Initiative (OSI).

Most people hardly know it, but open source software is everywhere: it is in computers, smartphones or even refrigerators. The industry discovered it long ago and has successfully deployed it since then. As a consequence of the commercial success, as early as 2001 governments started demonstrating their interest in using OSS. In 2003 the municipality of Munich, being the first worldwide, started the LiMux project that aimed to migrate that city’s 15.000 desktop clients from Windows to Linux. The floodgates opened wide and many others followed the Bavarian approach.

Now, some years after that event, OSS is present on the realms of numerous governments around the world. Not only that, many countries have issued legislation to even foster the spread of OSS. Likewise, the European Commission considers it the digital fuel behind their e-government projects. Very recently, Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin instructed the federal government agencies to switch to free and open source software by 2015.

An interesting development, is it not?

Besides, the OSS triumph has raised several legal questions. Legal writers have spent tons of both, analog and digital ink to determine whether “government’s acquisition of OSS is subject to public procurement law” or “the installation of OSS within different offices of the same agency constitutes a distribution or a conveyance in the sense of GNU/GPL“. The most of those questions have still not been satisfactorily answered or tested in court.

Either way, I am happy as to governments’ decision to embrace and endorse OSS. Still, there are many steps to take. But in a decade, one might turn around and say “wow, what a giant leap for mankind”.

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18 December 2009

GPL enforcer brandish their sword in a lawsuit


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FSF Wallpaper (blanco)photo © 2007 izamo | more info (via: Wylio)

 

The Software Freedom Law Center has undertaken proceedings against 14 hardware vendors, among which Samsung, Best Buy and JVC, for their alleged infringement of the GPL‘s license terms. Pursuant to claimant’s press release they attempted to approach the defendants giving them the opportunity to comply with the GPL prior to starting court proceedings, but those attempts were in vain.

The claimant asserted that the companies in suit have sold products containing BusyBox in violation of the terms of its license, the GPL (v2). In particular, the defendants faced the charge that they have distributed their products or firmware that contain BusyBox without claimant’s approval or authorization, since defendants had made the BusyBox in their distributions available in object code only. The defendants thus failed to include either (i) the “complete corresponding machine-readable source code” or (ii) a “written offer … to give any third party … a complete machine-readable copy of the corresponding source code.” Interestingly, the claimant forborne to question the interaction between the firmware and the BusyBox, especially as to whether the firmware were to be considered a “derivative work” of the BusyBox.

BusyBox has been referred by many to as the “Swiss Army Knife” for Linux and is thus a common component of numerous household devices that employ Linux as an operating system. Not surprisingly, the present lawsuit discovers how many commercially offered devices and appliances embody open source software.

17 January 2009

Open source software licenses are not contracts


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The Federal Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal District has recently resolved an uncertainty within US copyright law, namely whether open source licenses’ terms constitute a (copyright) “license” or  a mere  “contract”.

This may appear quite funny to a (European) civil lawyer as in his or her understanding the license is just one type of contract. However, this is not the case in the US.

Accordingly, the major difference between “licenses” and “contracts” lies in the realm of procedural law.
In a copyright infringement procedeeings the possibility to seek and obtain injunctive relief is available only if a license is affected, whereas this door is closed in the event of contract enforcement.

Although the authority in Jacobsen does not deal with GNU GPL, being the most important open source license, it is still very important as open source issues have so far not been settled before court.

One may remain curious as whether further authorities will follow.