FOSS Licensing/Preface

Under the current copyright regime, software users are subject to restrictive regulations. This regime is said to provide individuals with incentives in terms of economic returns and thus encourages them to develop creative works. However, some software developers disagree with this default configuration of copyright law and value other things more than short-term economic incentives.

The Free/Open Source Software (FOSS) Movement was started by grassroots developers who are not content with the current copyright system. They tactically use specifically designed FOSS licenses to allow a community with a different world-view to develop and flourish. Lawyers are sometimes brought in to facilitate the collaboration between developers.

However, software development and software licensing are very different activities, and developers and lawyers often have very different mindsets. While developers tend to use whatever resources are available to them to achieve a particular feature, lawyers may request a copy of the license of every existing module that developers wish to adopt, before they actually approve the integration into the project. And while developers tend to use acronyms to make their communication more succinct, lawyers tend to use arcane terms and complicated sentences to make sure their ideas can be clearly delivered. Therefore, in order to successfully develop FOSS applications, both these professions are required to cooperate with each other.

As the FOSS Movement has been growing rapidly in recent years, more and more different kinds of stakeholders are brought in to participate in different roles. Some of them are end-users, developers, business entities, or government agencies that provide funding for FOSS projects. This primer is designed to provide these stakeholders with some basic knowledge about copyright, software copyright and FOSS licenses. Legal issues may vary in different situations and this primer may not be able to provide answers to all situations. But, hopefully, it will serve as a bridge between lawyers and non-lawyers in this joint venture of FOSS development.

Last modified on 9 May 2009, at 22:44