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Network Computing: The Law and Open-Source Software

Oct 29, 2001, 14:06 (6 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Sean Doherty)
"...Open-source licenses rely on copyright law, which is enforceable by the holder. Although the copyright law provides a solid foundation for copyright owners, transferring those rights to other parties under license often becomes a matter for courts under state commercial laws and perhaps UCITA (Uniform Commercial Information Transactions Act).

Individual licenses negotiated at arm's length between parties often include the requisite offer and acceptance to form a contract. Licenses that are mass-produced for the open-source community, however, may not fare well under state commercial codes. For example, the GPL grants a direct license from the copyright holder to each developer or user with each software transfer. As software passes through the hands of users, offer and acceptance becomes diluted, and courts may find this unenforceable. Also, any license amended by one party without agreement on the terms of sale by the other party amounts to a nonbinding "shrink-wrap" license.

Open-source licensing benefits from a strong community of developers who are more committed to writing good code than to litigation. Vituperation from the community against open-source offenders is enough to bring most license challenges to a halt. This benefit, however, is also a burden where the courts have not been able to interpret the licenses. This may change as more and more enterprises become involved with open-source development."

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