Moving to an Open Source World

Licensing and Warranty

Your browser needs to be JavaScript capable to view this video

Try reloading this page, or reviewing your browser settings

This video segment explains how proprietary software licenses are quite different to those of open source, where licenses usually give you the freedom to do what you want with the software (under certain conditions).


  • Licensing
  • copyright
  • EULA
  • contracts
  • copyleft
  • law

About this video

Karl Beecher
First online
25 December 2018
Online ISBN
Copyright information
© Karl Beecher 2019

Video Transcript

[Audio Begins] [0:00:00]

Karl Beecher: Sometimes, there’s not a whole lot of difference between the open source and proprietary worlds, but in the case of licensing, that’s certainly not the case. This segment will explain the differences in licensing, and how they might impact upon your move to open source software.

Now it helps to be clear about what a license is and what it grants you in both cases. A license is a legal instrument that grants the end user certain rights to use the program. Throughout many jurisdictions around the world, software, once written, is automatically covered by copyright. This means no one outside of the author has any legal right to the software at all. Licensing is the means for the author to allow us to use the program without having to give up the copyright in the process. Open source software and proprietary software do things differently in this regard.

In the case of proprietary software, you’re not strictly speaking buying a product. Instead, your money buys you a license that gives you permission to use a software, subject to certain terms, and those terms are typically described in an EULA. That’s an end-user license agreement. They can sometimes be quite strict. An EULA typically forbids modification or redistribution of the software, and might even forbid making copies or restrict you to non-commercial use only.

An open source license is fundamentally different. First of all, open source licenses are not contractual agreements. When a user gets an open source program from an author, no agreement between the parties is made. Instead, the license simply lists the things the user is allowed to do with the software, the things which would otherwise be disallowed under copyright law. And different open source licenses grant different rights, but each license typically grants the following as a minimum. The right to use the software for any purpose, commercial or non-commercial. The right to copy the software as much as you like. The right to modify the software to any extent you require. And the right to redistribute the software with or without your own changes.

Most open source software is covered by a ready-made license. For example, the GNU Public License, the Apache License, or the MIT License. And the license is provided with the program, so you know what your rights are in each case. Depending on what you want to do with the software, it might be worth watching out for copyleft license programs. A copyleft is a concept used in some open source licenses, but by no means all of them. The GNU Public License is an example of one that does use it.

It works like this. Source code published under an open source copyleft license, grants anybody to use, copy, modify, or redistribute the software. You’re even allowed to modify that work and redistribute your modified version if you wish. But anything you redistribute must grant the same rights to other users. In other words, you’re not allowed to take a copyleft work and distribute it without those copyleft provisions intact. So for example, you would be breaking its terms if you took a copyleft program and redistributed a modified version without also supplying the source code.

Now some open source users recommend caution when using copyleft licenses depending on what you’re doing. So if you intend to use open source software to build new software, it is conceivable that you might end up in legal trouble if you enter into an agreement that conflicts with your duty under copyleft terms. But thankfully, if it is a problem, other licenses exist without copyleft provision.

And what about warranty? Open source warranties typically include warranty disclaimers. And open source software might come with things like express warranty, which is a guarantee that the product will reach a certain level of quality and reliability; implied warranty, which guarantees that the product works as it claims to work; warranty against infringement, which guarantees that the program doesn’t infringe on anyone else’s copyright; and liability for damages, meaning the original author’s can’t be held liable for any damage caused using the software. So open source might disclaim such warranties. However, things like this are not always black and white and are sometimes put to the test in court. Also, be aware these warranty claims are subject to differences across jurisdictions. So warranty disclaimers might not be fool-proof. For example, Germany has strong consumer protection laws, and simply disclaiming liability might not impress a jury in court, regardless of what your license says. So make sure you know what you’re doing under your jurisdiction.

So the key lessons here, open source licenses are not agreements. They just list additional rights granted to you. And be aware of what using a copyleft license actually means to your business. Open source licenses typically disclaim warranties, but if in doubt in any of these cases, consult a lawyer.

In the next segment, we’ll look at independence.

[0:05:16] [Audio Ends]