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I've been having a discussion about licensing and open source software. Basically - the other guy is saying that licensing is easy, if you're going to build a product you can use an (any) open source project and make money by selling that code.

My issue is that say I create a website or app with a project that uses a GPL license the restrictions aren't so straight forward - correct me if i'm wrong on each of these scenarios:

1 - i create an iPhone app using GPL code and put that app into the appstore - the code must be freely available to people buying that app.

2 - i create a website that my client hosts - they must have access to the code.

3 - i create a website as SaaS that my client "leases" but does not own - though it is hosted on their infrastructure - they must have access to that code

Am i right on each of those assumptions?

Are there any other issues i should be aware of under any other licensing terms for other licenses?

marked as duplicate by gnat, thorsten müller, Jalayn, Martijn Pieters, user40980 Apr 14 '13 at 16:53

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You're basically correct on each of the three points, and so is your friend with respect to making money selling code written by another guy.

An idea is worthless if you don't execute on it. His point is that there are smart github users who write the code and don't execute on it from a marketing/sales standpoint. And he's absolutely correct.

On your end, you're probably overstating the customers' interest in the code itself. In the case of an iPhone app, for instance, a link somewhere on your site to a github repo is quite fine. The only ones who will actually take note are your competition, and the occasional geek who happens to have purchased your product and is curious about how it works.

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    LGPL also requires that people be able to relink downstream apps to use a new version of the LGPL library AIUI. – Donal Fellows Jul 1 '11 at 8:14
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    I've written this post: blogs.sonatribe.com/wayne/2011/06/30/… is there anything there that stands out as BS? – iwayneo Jul 1 '11 at 8:19
  • @iwayneo: "I was under the impression we had already won that war. A long time ago." - I think you got a very wrong impression. Just look at the activity on github.com or ohloh.net. Personally, I only ever use and produce FOSS. I've a strong pref for BSD/MIT, too. PHP has a lot of GPL around. But if you look into Ruby, close to everything is BSD/MIT. In javascript, close to all jQuery is MIT licensed (best I'm aware, the dual GPL license was added because the guys from Drupal can't read). – Denis de Bernardy Jul 1 '11 at 8:27
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    @iwayneo: "your IP is your business" - that's also incorrect in as far as I've experienced it. Your marketing is your business. Your ability to maintain and deploy that IP is your business. Not the IP itself. – Denis de Bernardy Jul 1 '11 at 8:28
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    @iwayneo - In my experience when clients or potential clients ask about OSS software they're concerned less about whether something is enterprise ready and more about (1) that you've used it correctly and aren't exposing them to potential licensing problems and (2) that it's an actively supported project that's not going to cause them support issues down the line. It's not the technical side they're worried about, it's the uncertainty. – Jon Hopkins Jul 1 '11 at 8:36

Regarding scenario 1 (an AppStore App using GPL code), unless something changed the AppStore terms of service are incompatible with the GPL so where they're aware that code in the app is licensed under the GPL (or any similar OS license), Apple will pull it from the store so they're not violating the terms.

That's not to say that your understanding of the GPL is wrong, it's not you would need to make the code available, just that a GPL app is never going to survive in the AppStore if Apple know that it is such.

The other two scenarios you're right on.

The one other thing you might want to consider is that there are questions about how and where using open source code means you have to open source your code.

At one end of the scenario you could take some open source code and alter that code to create a custom version. Pretty much everyone would agree that that's a situation where you have to outsource the resulting code.

At the other if I use, say, JBoss to build something which just calls JBoss as a completely packaged product, most people (though not everyone) would agree that I don't need to open source my code.

In the middle it's not so clear. If I take an open source code library, leave it exactly as it is but including it in my project, do I need to open source the resulting project? Most people I've spoken to about it say no but things are certainly less clear cut.

If you're worried about such things and don't want to open source your code though you might want to make sure you keep things nicely and clearly compartmentalised.

  • I'm pretty certain I've browsed through a couple of GPL-licensed apps and iOS libraries. Here's one. – Denis de Bernardy Jul 1 '11 at 8:38
  • i wish i could mark them both as correct because they both are :( – iwayneo Jul 1 '11 at 9:37
  • @Denis - I'm not saying that they don't exist, just that they exist in a legally contradictory state and when they're bought to Apple's attention they tend to get pulled. – Jon Hopkins Jul 1 '11 at 10:10

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