Language Selection

English French German Italian Portuguese Spanish

Commercial Open Source?

Filed under
OSS

Here’s a wrinkle that many devotees of open source either don’t know about, or don’t talk about. As it turns out, open source projects can get acquired by commercial software companies. And to prove that point, one of the more popular open source projects on sourceforge.net was acquired last week. To what extent the acquisition of an open source project results in its being taken out off the open source shelves depends on many things. For example, how many people were contributing to it before the acquisition, who are they, and what are their plans now that their open source project has been acquired?

To acquire an open source project, the acquirer has to, with almost 100 percent certainty, be sure that they are acquiring the copyrights to all of the code being used in the project. Those copyrights ultimately belong to the individual contributors to the project who, up until the point of acquisition, would have been bequeathing certain rights to their code to others under whatever open source license is behind the project. To the extent that licensing that code under an OSI-approved license is what let the code out out of the box and into the open source wild, there’s nothing that the acquirer can do to put it back in the box. That code will always remain available under whatever open source license it was published. But, by acquiring the copyrights and any trademarks that are associated with that code, the acquirer also acquires the right to modify and distribute the original code without having to make those modifications available under an open source license. In other words, future versions of the open source software could become closed source. So, how could this play out?

With a project like Linux, there’s pretty much a zero probablility of the project ever being acquired because of how many contributors are involved. Not only would it be difficult to track them all down, establish with some degree that they are indeed the copyright holders, and reach some mutually beneficial financial arrangement to give an acquirer all the rights they need. There’s also the high likelihood that some passionate group of developers would take the core body of source code that was already available under an open source license (the GPL), and exercise their rights to continue the evolution of an open source version of Linux. The end result, even if someone successfully "acquired" Linux, would be a tangible forking of the code. One fork would be open source version that the passionate community carried forward. The other would be the commercial derivative that was some percentage open source (by virtue of the "grandfathered" code base), and some percentage closed source.

But what about a popular open source project that has far fewer developers with far fewer copyrights to track down? Sure, the developers could sell their copyrights to the acquirer, but nothing prevents them from continuing to evolve the already open-sourced code under an open source license. That is, unless, in the process of acquiring the copyrights to the source code, the acquirer also hires the most passionate developers — the driving forces — behind the open source project.

Full Story.

More in Tux Machines

Ubuntu Snappy Core Runs on Banana Pi BPI-M2 with Linux Kernel 4.1.6, Download Now

After reporting last week news about the Ubuntu MATE 15.04 (Vivid Vervet) operating system running on the Banana Pi BPI-M1 SBC (Single-board computer) device, we're informing you today that Snappy Ubuntu Core runs on Banana Pi BPI-M2. Read more

Linux 4.3

Using Linux Mint: Common tasks, features and to-dos for the first-timer

Linux-based operating systems are like those friends you make in high school--you know the type: reserved, quirky and not quite like the rest of the pack. But intelligent and the kind that, once you get to know them, will stand by you through thick and thin. Ok, that may be a stretch, but you get the idea. Linux comprises but a fraction of a percent of operating systems deployed, and with reason--it’s traditionally been difficult to set up and use. Which is why it used to appeal only to users with a higher level of computer proficiency: basically geeks. But while this was the case back in the day, plenty has changed--today installing and using it is very comparable to the Windows experience. Read more

Google, Microsoft Create Alliance for Open Media

The founding members are Amazon, Cisco, Google, Intel Corporation, Microsoft, Mozilla and Netflix. The goal is to "create a new, open royalty-free video codec specification based on the contributions of members, along with binding specifications for media format, content encryption and adaptive streaming." The word open is used many times in the announcement, but only once with source. Is "open" the same thing as "open source?" Roy Schestowitz at Tuxmachines.org doesn't think so. He organized the news of the AOM under the title "OpenWashing (Fake FOSS)." Read more Also: Comments on the Alliance for Open Media, or, "Oh Man, What a Day" Mozilla's mobile misstep puts the Web at risk