A Call to Conformity in Open Source Software!

The inherent problems with Computer Software.. Ah, so helpful to the progress of society, yet so difficult to place when it comes to Intellectual Property. There are so many differing views regarding this area; it probably wouldn’t be fair or informative to call this a disagreement. Utter confusion would tend to be more apt.

As an apprentice Computer scientist, I can remember first learning about open source code. I remembered understanding it conceptually, but having a bit of confusion in the recesses of my mind. It’s high time that we start to “debug” some of this confusion.. for the good of society.

For roughly the previous twenty years. the freedom that open source provides has contributed to positive changes in source code and operating system functionality. However, how we ensure the property rights of the hierarchy of various contributors is leading to problems of exponential proportion. If everyone is putting their mark on a piece of widely used code, then who owns what? In our republic, ownership is prince if cash is king. So, as a logical proposition, the attendant restrictions of owning property versus the interests involved with community based ownership yields obvious concerns. At some point, these interests will run into each other.

Indeed, the ideas of copyright and “copyleft” simply won’t mix. As an end unto itself, computer programs weren’t explicitly mentioned in the Copyright Act until 1980, nearly two centuries after the law’s formation. This strongly suggests that this is a “new-age” concern that drafters of the above-mentioned act could in no way have envisioned. Currently, there are about four different ways of copyrighting open source.

Let’s consider. A developer of an Open Source product will copyright their product. Then, they will license their code. If the owner of the copyright decides to push the code into public domain, they consequently will give up their property rights. Someone then can develop the software further and “re-copyright” said software. For my colleagues within the industry, understanding how recursion works on a stack is simpler! This isn’t for a complete overhaul of the software… simply a “modif[ication]”. We haven’t come to a consensus of what is used to determine this concept. Is it a line of code? Program output? a minimal function? et seq

At this point, we have to decide which of several licenses will be controlling as respects the code.  To eliminate any further confusion, the two most robust licensing systems are the GPL (General Public License) and BSD (Berkley Software Distribution). Yes.. that BSD from Unix! Essentially, GPL is a guarantor of the freeness of the software. This preempts a developer (or company) from coming along at a later time and copyrighting code with (Yikes!!) creative intellectual property lawyers. GPL is more about the art, less about the business.

With BSD, one is presented with fewer obstacles to merging open source with say, proprietary code. I liken it to mixing and matching. However, the copyright and any contractual matters hold. I am loathe to say that I alone, as a novice, have the solution for this issue. Knowing what you don’t know is half of the battle. What I strongly adhere to is the need for one comprehensive licensing system to govern these matters. The system now does nothing but guarantee good hourly rates for attorneys and another one on the docket for an already burdened Federal judiciary. As I come closer to graduation, I’m starting to waiver about law school. Now.. I am not quite so sure.


Open Source Collage


http://www.mnl.com/ourideas/opensource/intellectual_property_issues_b.php, May 1, 2015, unlisted publish date (compiled from Lexis Nexis)

https://opensource.com/law/14/2/top-10-legal-issues-2013, May 2, 2015, February 11, 2015




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