Open Source Software Licenses

AuthorDavid W. Tollen
Open Source Software Licenses
An open source license grants the customer access to the software’s
source code. It also permits modification of the software and redis-
tribution of both the original and the new, modified version. At least,
that’s a thumbnail explanation of a complex concept. This appendix
explains open source licenses. You’ll understand this appendix better
if you first read Chapter I.C (“Software Licenses in General”).6
This appendix refers to the parties in an open source license
as the “licensor” and the “recipient.” That’s because “vendor” and
customer” don’t fit well, since often both parties qualify as software
developers and distributors.
“Open source” is often confused with “free,” but open source
software isn’t necessarily free. Licensors can charge for software and
still be considered open source providers, so long as they don’t charge
any additional fee or royalty for source code or for the rights to mod-
ify and redistribute. But because each recipient can redistribute the
software—at any price or no price—market forces usually keep licen-
sors from charging a lot. If the price is high, recipients can just get
the software from someone else: from another recipient. As a result,
much open source software actually is free or very inexpensive. Most
of the licensors don’t care about making money directly from their
software. They generate revenues from related professional services,
6. The open source community doesn’t consider its licenses “contracts.” A hazy line
separates licenses and contracts that include licenses. In simplified terms, a license grants
rights without any corresponding promises from the recipient, while a contract involves
promises from both sides (or at least promises in exchange for actions).
For a more complete definition of “open source,” see The Open Source Definition
provided by the Open Source Initiative:

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