Which open source license require re-release of modifications?

| | August 7, 2015

I need to use some open source components in my application. I can’t re-release my modifications (and certainly not the rest of the code that the opensource code touches). The software I’m working with isn’t distributed (unless you call working as a onsite contractor doing maintenance programming “distribution”, which seems a stretch.)

Which license are safe for this scenario? Or Which licenses are not safe for this scenario?

I’m interested in how ordinary developers are reacting to this scenario–or else I’d be asking at lawsuitoverflow :-), going to a lawyer at $200 an hour on my personal funds is currently out of the question, although I appreciate the humor of such an answer.

5 Responses to “Which open source license require re-release of modifications?”

  1. Just a quick warning: as a contractor, you are a legal person different from the client; you are actually distributing your software. IANAL; you should ask your lawyers about this.

  2. David Thornley on November 30, -0001 @ 12:00 AM

    Any license approved by the Open Source Initiative should be suitable for a situation in which you are not going to redistribute (which you aren’t). You should talk to somebody in the company, though, if there’s any possibility they might want to redistribute in the future. There are licenses that work well in that case, but any version of the GPL will cause problems.

    There are also things labeled as open source that have licenses that the OSI wouldn’t recognize as such. These licenses are sometimes legally tricky, in that they are frequently written by programmers with unclear goals without help of legal counsel, and actually say some pretty weird things.

    There’s really nothing you can do other than examine each license. Fortunately, most Open Source software is under the same few licenses, and once you’ve studied one you don’t need to study it again. Depending on how worried you are, you may well want to consult a lawyer, but try to get one with some familiarity with Open Source licenses. I’ve heard enough horror stories about lawyers who didn’t get the idea and just recommended avoiding it entirely out of misunderstanding.

    Lastly there’s the question of who is going to know and care. You do want to take some care to stay on the legitimate side of the license, but your chance of getting into serious trouble over a technicality is very low, as long as it’s internal use only.

    Remember: I’m a software guy, who has occasionally read some legal stuff, and these are opinions and observations, not advice of any sort. Use your own judgment, or that of a lawyer.

  3. BSD and MIT style license are quite good for this (source re-distribution not required for modifications), but they too require attribution and/or carrying of the license text along with the binary. But always read the full text carefully ,for any changes/additions made by the source code author, to the license.

    Also GPL V2 (Not sure about v3) allows you to NOT release the modifications if you DO NOT redistribute the code. But in your case I’m not sure about this. Better check with a lawyer.

  4. Several points:

    • If you’re working on-site as contractor, usually all legal problems fall on the shoulders of your employer.

    • Most viral free software licenses only demand that you provide source along with any binary you distribute. If only your employer has the binary, only he has to have the source.

    • There are some licenses which require that all users of a software are provided with (a possibility for acquiring) the source code (Affero GPL is a very prominent example)

    And finally the most important:

    • Talk to a lawyer which is not affiliated with your employer.
  5. Steven Robbins on November 30, -0001 @ 12:00 AM

    It’s a complicated subject, and you should really read the licence, or get the company Legal Beagles to read over them, before you commit. There’s an article here that covers a few of the basic ones. It’s aimed more at picking a license for your project, but it’s still useful.

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