In my office, I manage a team of programmers who develop iPad apps for clients. We use HTML5, CSS3, jQuery, a customized version of jQuery Mobile, PhoneGap and an Objective-C PhoneGap plugin which consists of a lot of small libraries put together and tweaked.
The issue we face — since the Internet has become a boon for programmers, with such open source collaboration websites such as GitHub – is that licensing is either a) poorly described or explained by the project, or b) the programmers who use, fork, or rewrite open source code may not understand the implication of their actions.
At one company I worked for, we had a programmer that modified GPL code all the time and rewrote the copyright headers stating it was “Copyright John Smith.” Had I been older and had high cholesterol, I would have had a heart attack.
Yes, I work for companies that only write closed-source software, but I love and use all sorts of open-source software, and contribute back when I can. I told him he had to fork the vanilla source and rewrite his changes again, properly documenting his changes as he went, and keeping the attribution at the top of each source file. Unfortunately, I told my boss we now had to maintain this fork as an open source package because we’re selling commercial software that contains modified GPL code and he refused.
I don’t work their anymore and I don’t think they got the message that what they were doing was illegal and unfaithful to the original developers.
At my current employer, in our intranet, I wrote documentation on licensing. I wrote out this table describing the differences between licenses that we have come across. I know there are thousands more licenses and thousands more columns I could add explaining the differences — e.g. the GPLv2 and GPLv3 are identical according to this chart. Please understand the use for simplification.
|License||Link with code using a different license?||Must host source code of derived work?||Copyright must be maintained [Attribution]?||Promotion of authors and contributors allowed?||Modifications must use same license [CopyLeft]?|
|New BSD License||Yes||No||Yes||No||No|
The issue with my current employer, as all employers I’ve had in the web development field, is that they refuse to put resources in to maintaining open source software. Legally, you have to do this any time you modify GPL code and package it in a piece of software — whether open source or closed source, proprietary or free.
Thus unfortunately, I stated to my employees that they must gain explicit permission to use GPL code, as I know my employer will not maintain it. It’s not the fault of the GPL or the programmers that chose the GPL for this, but the business practices of some companies. We actually had an employee leave over the fact that we don’t maintain open source code because we refuse to use GPL code. He was right to do so and I completely understand his position.
It’s not that GPL is poison, but corporations need, by and large, more education on how to use, write and re-write software, especially using existing libraries on the web. Until then, we have to use Apache, MIT, BSD and public domain licenses, while maintaining proper attribution.
What are your thoughts?