Before his Wednesday session on licensing issues, Steven Henry, an IP (intellectual property) attorney with the Boston-based IP specialist law firm Wolf Greenfield & Sachs PC, spoke with Ziff Davis Internet News. He said that open-source software licensing is like ice-cream: many different flavors and types.
While "one-size licensing doesnt fit all," he pointed to market forces that are pushing open-source licenses and their development models to change and consolidate.
Henry observed that the GNU GPL (General Public License) is now being rewritten by Eben Moglen, the legal counsel for the FSF (Free Software Foundation) and others. No date has been set for this Version 3 of the license.
Rewriting the GPL, however, will not be a quick process, and the process may be complicated. According to Moglen, the minimum time for such a process is a year and the closure date is undetermined.
In particular, Henry said that dealing with patent issues will be critical for the new GPL. Unfortunately, patent and the "proprietary rights [that go with them] are the elephant in the room," he said. "Proprietary right issues must be dealt with if open source is to survive." For example, he said Sun Microsystems Inc.s CDDL (Common Development and Distribution License) is open only to the point where developers start trying to take advantage of it being open-source. "The CDDL is clearly completely incompatible with GPL," Henry said.
This was an understandable business decision, Henry continued. "Companies arent going to throw away their patent rights. They want to gain something."
Meanwhile, the Open Source Initiative recently acknowledged that there are simply too many open-source licenses. And a number of developers confirmed to Ziff Davis Internet News that its simply beyond them to keep track of the various requirements placed on them when using software thats covered by two or more open-source licenses.
While some companies, Henry said, make an effort for the legal department to oversee the use of any outside code, hes not sure how well that policy is being followed in practice.
Some developers in businesses, however, said they werent especially worried about being sued for their use of open-source code.
Josh Levine, the chief technology and operations officer for E-Trade Financial Corp., said that while there had been some risk of lawsuits (because of The SCO Group Inc.s threats) around Linux for a while, "its no longer high on the legal departments radar."
At the Retail Linux Solutions conference in Chicago this week, Harry Roberts, CIO and senior vice president for Boscovs Department Store LLC, told the handful of attendees that the legal issues that SCO had raised with regard to Linux "is now less of a concern than it was a year ago as SCO is unlikely to still be around," he said.
While there was speculation that there could be additional patent and copyright suites against Linux, "we see this as a minor risk," Roberts said. In addition, open-source software companies that check code for licensing violations such as Black Duck Software Inc. are helping to settle the minds of worried CIOs.
There is a far more significant "risk" to open-source developers, according to Henry. With the embrace of open-source by big business, cultural changes are coming along with the adoption. "Open-source is no longer a grass-roots movement. It has been co-opted," he said.