hackers, free software, open source, license

Document Type



Home computer users and businesses often rely on software developed by unconventional programmers known as "hackers." Hackers claim that the code they develop is superior in quality to the code developed by commercial software firms because hackers freely share the code they develop. This code sharing enables a multitude of programmers from around the world to rapidly find and fix bugs. The legal mechanism that enables hackers to deploy this worldwide team of de-buggers is a license agreement or, to be more precise,an assortment of license agreements known as "open source" licenses.

Although open source software developers may regularly fix buggy software, they do not regularly fix their licenses. There are a multitude of licenses that purport to meet the goals of open source development. These licenses reflect different, and sometimes contradictory, approaches to core licensing issues. Many of these licenses are buggy-out of date, misapplied, misunderstood and hopelessly confusing. This state of affairs benefits no one. Hackers suffer because they do not know which license form to use. End users suffer because they do not fully understand the terms of use. Commercial software developers suffer because they have difficulty discerning how open source licensed software may affect their intellectual property.

The key to successfully de-bugging open source licensing is setting up a better process for creating and updating open source licenses. This article outlines one such process. This article begins by describing the array of open source licenses. It then explains the significant shortcomings in these licenses.The article concludes by proposing that a standards organization assume responsibility for improving important open source license forms and licensing practices.



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.