The continued success of the open source movement is entirely dependent on contributions from developers. But according to a study conducted by InfoWorld and IDG in July 2004, although 85 percent of respondents said that they were either evaluating or actively using open source in their businesses, only 36 percent cited access to source code as either “very important” or “extremely important” to open source software’s overall attractiveness.
The implication is that, although open source is widely used in corporate environments, relatively few companies are actively contributing new code to open source projects. Even among those organizations that employ in-house developers, managers are often hesitant to devote resources to open source, citing so-called viral terms of open source software licenses. This is a shame because the fears surrounding open source licensing are largely overblown — the product of misinformation spread to promote competing agendas.
In truth, objections to “open source licenses” often apply only to the GNU GPL (General Public License). The Free Software Foundation maintains a list of other licenses, many with terms that are more favorable to commercial enterprise than those of the GPL. Given proper scrutiny, however, even the terms of the GPL are far less odious to businesses than they are often made out to be.
For example, the GPL doesn’t require companies to publish modifications they make to open source code. That restriction applies only if the company plans to sell or redistribute the modified package to others. Similarly, it’s a myth that the GPL is designed to undermine copyrights. On the contrary, copyright law is what gives it its power. The GPL simply states that one developer cannot, in the process of creating a derivative work from another developer’s copyrighted code, deny others the freedoms granted by the original author.
There are some business uses for which GPL-licensed code is inherently incompatible. For this reason, a number of organizations have taken on stewardship roles of open source projects, which allows them to also offer the code under an alternate, commercial license for those that need it. The MySQL database is the most often cited example of this licensing model. In general, however, the licensing issues surrounding open source code are less complex than they appear for most organizations.
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