Tools to help companies use open source software lawfully

Out-Law News | 13 Aug 2010 | 4:06 pm | 1 min. read

A non-profit open source software group has released a set of tools and training programmes to help companies ensure that they are using open source software lawfully.

The Linux Foundation said that the move is particularly important now because the open source Linux operating system (OS) is increasingly being used in mobile phones.

"Those of you who follow Linux know its use as an embedded OS has skyrocketed in recent memory, delivering a sea change in the consumer electronics and mobile industries," said Linux Foundation executive director Jim Zemlin in a blog post.

"We think complying with open source licenses is relatively straightforward and far easier than complying with proprietary licenses, especially in an enterprise software setting. (Just ask a CIO who has an undergone a software audit recently. And that’s most of them.) But knowledge, after all, is power. And some companies need help, especially operationally, in defining and following best practices," wrote Zemlin.

The Open Compliance Program includes software that analyses software and identifies its origins and the licences that should be used for it. It also includes a tool which 'cleans' code written by a company of any material that is not for public consumption, such as indicators of future software plans or release code names.

The Foundation said that the scheme is being backed by Cisco, Google, HP, IBM, Adobe and Sony, amongst others.

Zemlin said that the programme is the result of using the same approach to the legal issues surrounding software as it believes should be used in the creation of software itself.

"We have the collective experience of our staff as well as the ability to galvanize our members to deliver information, training, tools and a standard that will help the industry coalesce around best practices and save money at the same time," he said. "Just as in open source, we feel collaborative development and re-use of resources in compliance matters will deliver great efficiencies of scale."

Zemlin said that use of the Foundation's tools should lower the costs of companies using open source software because it will make the process of ensuring compliance easier.

He said that compliance with open source licensing is easier than with licensing for proprietary. 

"Complying with open source licenses is actually easier than complying with proprietary ones," he said. "There are countless software audits of users every year, and settlements often range in the tens of millions for large companies. You may not have heard about those cases since they do not get the attention the very few open source cases do, but make no mistake, complying with proprietary licenses is not easy or cheap."