Navigating the Legal Risks of Open Source: Page 3

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Another point Vasile makes to clients is that open source doesn’t mean anti-commercial. “That’s a big misconception,” he said. “Under the GPL, if you want to charge for software, you can. However, you then have obligations.”

Mainly, if you charge for GPL software, you must keep the core open. “If you get GPL code, modify it, and sell it, you have to give the people you sell it to the same rights you received. Your customers must be able to copy, modify, and distribute without difficulty,” he said.

GPL Version 3 Takes on Microsoft

The GPL itself has been causing some concern in the open-source community, due to yet another licensing misconception. Some Linux users fear that GPL Version 3 will render their existing licenses obsolete. This isn’t the case, since new licenses aren’t retroactive, but Linus Torvalds has said Linux will stick to the old license, putting many end users’ minds at ease.

Even without Torvalds’ endorsement, the new GPL could have a big impact on the future of free software. The main change with GPL 3.0 is that it more aggressively challenges patents by taking on patent partnerships (like Microsoft and Novell).

At the time of the draft release, Richard Stallman, president of the FSF and principal author of the GNU GPL, said, “The GPL was designed to ensure that all users of a program receive the four essential freedoms which define free software. These freedoms allow you to run the program as you see fit, study and adapt it for your own purposes, redistribute copies to help your neighbor, and release your improvements to the public. The recent patent agreement between Microsoft and Novell aims to undermine these freedoms. In this draft we have worked hard to prevent such deals from making a mockery of free software.”

Harsh words, and all the more reason to start thinking about those third-party indemnification programs. This fight could get a lot worse before it gets better.

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