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Open Source Licensing 101

As an open source user and software engineering researcher, I always have been amazed by open source licenses, in particular, because quickly things can go wrong.

Why is it important to study open source licenses in 2020? Some questions to think:

  • Do you know why Google banned the use of the AGPL license on any of its open source projects?
  • Do you know why GPL 2.0 license, one of the purest copyleft licenses, has more than halved in usage in the last 10 years?
  • Do you know why it took about a year to change a license in the Eclipse project?
  • Do you know that the core team of the Lerna project removed of its maintainers due to license misuses?
  • Do you know why you should run away from open source projects that don't have any license?

Software licensing is a complex subject, which often requires expertise from other areas far away from the software development arena. Indeed, most books regarding software licensing are also written by lawyers, which is not a problem itself, but the terms employed may hinder the understanding of the software development community (I had a hard time understanding some concepts on these books). Another problem is that developers may not always see any concrete implication of an eventual license misuse.

The goal of this book

The goal of this book is two-fold: 

  • First, we intend to make this complex license stuff simpler. 
  • Second, the book should highlight concrete examples of license problems (so developers could easily relate to their activities).

By doing this, we expect that developers could better understand the importance of open source licenses and the context in which they could use (or not) one given software library (because of license concerns).

This book is by Gustavo Pinto, a software engineering professor and researcher. In this book, I simplify what open source licenses are all about and why they are essential for developers. This is done by highlighting concrete problems that happen every day on your favorite coding website

Book Sample

Here is the Preface from the book. No email address necessary.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter 1: legal protections for software
  • Chapter 2: what is open source?
  • Chapter 3: open source licenses
  • Chapter 4: other licenses
  • Chapter 5: licenses bugs
  • Chapter 6: license usage in practice
  • Chapter 7: choosing a license


Why should I read this book?

If you work for the software industry, the chances are that you have to deal with open source code regularly. In this case, you might be aware of eventual license related problems. For instance, did you know that Google ban the use of AGPL on its open source projects? Have any idea why?

Why do we need another book on software licensing?

Although we do have some good books about open source software licensing, most of these books are written by lawyers, using very technical terms, which might hinder the understanding of developers (who are always busy). Moreover, this book also has a practical orientation. After covering the concepts of open source licensing, we highlight real examples of good and bad licensing usage. For instance, have you ever thought that by answering a question on StackOverflow you might cause a license violation?

For whom this book is for?

  • If you are a developer and use open source software on a daily basis, this book is for you!
  • If you are a project maintainer and still struggle to understand what license you should use, this book is for you!
  • If you are a researcher interested in studying open source licensing issues, this book is for you!
  • If you are a professor teaching open source or related topics, this book is for you!
  • If you care about open source, this book is for you!

What's the refund policy?

If what you see is not what you expected, just reply to the download email within 30 days, and you'll get a full refund. No questions asked.

About the author

Gustavo Pinto is a professor at UFPA, Brazil. He has more than 10 years of experience doing software engineering research. Most of his research works are related to open source software and communities. Know more at www.gustavopinto.org.

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  • You'll get two PDFs (the book and a executive summary) and a ePUB version
  • Length117 pages


Open Source Licensing 101

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