Open Source Licenses, Copyleft and The Development of Technological Innovation

Open Source Licenses, Copyleft and The Development of Technological Innovation

An open source license logo

“Content is available under CC BY-SA 3.0 unless otherwise noted”

If you have ever scrolled to the bottom of a Wikipedia webpage, looking for God knows what, chances are this quote may strike you as familiar. Let’s crunch the jargon down, shall we? Wikipedia is simply saying that the content provided on that particular webpage is an open initiative. This implies that absolutely anyone can access the information provided, copy or share in any format to an unlimited audience and modify the information even for commercial purposes, all at no cost. You must be thinking this is the exact opposite of copyright. Going by the rules of English language, it should be tagged copyleft (be wary of departing, beloved).

However, that’s not all there is to it. The license further stipulates that Wikipedia cannot for any reason prevent you from doing those things with the information if you fulfill two requirements: first, you must attribute that the information you have shared or modified is bound by an open license (CreativeCommons, Wikipedia’s licensor requires you to “provide a link to the license”) and second, you must share your own work (modified or not) under these same conditions.

The copyleft symbol

While CreativeCommons is not considered an exact example of open source, it gives an insight into the rules that governs the intellectual property concepts of open source licenses and copyleft (do not lose focus, copyleft is an actual word!). In simple terms, open source licenses are licenses that confers the right to use and modify a product with reduced or entirely waived license fees. Copyleft on the hand allows the free usage, sharing and modification of the copyright in a product while requiring that subsequent modifications to the product be bound by the same free and open distribution terms. Most open source licenses are usually copyleft and both concepts have proven to be exceptionally crucial to the development of software and technology by excluding the stifling nature of intellectual property in a bid to secure other benefits.

For software and technology, open source licenses reveal the source code or underlying technical information in an invention and allow free and open usage. Starting from the mid 2010s, Microsoft which had once been a major antagonist to free and open software licenses has become a major player in open source licensing. Microsoft open sourced its .NET Framework and acquired GitHub, the largest open source host among many activities taken towards the encouragement of open source license. Why would Microsoft sacrifice the humongous revenue in its copyright for a free distribution license?

The answers are not far fetched. Open source licenses encourage innovative technology and boost competitive strategies. Since authors of innovative technology can build on existing codes or technical information to develop newer and better technologies, the end result is better software and artificially intelligent technology. While developers are allowed to gain commercial benefit from modifications to source codes, several open source licenses require that the original authors be credited for their foundational work and that the modified work be released under the same terms of the open license. Invariably, the originator of the software retains its name and brand affiliations to the original work. Open source licenses also help companies on the receiving end save the costs of licenses and the cost involved in training to staff to develop new source codes for technological innovation. Asides this, open source licenses provide great security as malware can be detected easily by anyone and corrected without permission and without fear of infringement.

While open source licenses are amazing things for the development of technology, it is not without its drawbacks. Open source licenses may appear to be cheap but there are several underlying costs involved including costs of setting up and maintenance. The license also prevents claims of infringement without any prospect of indemnity. In situations where staff are not familiar with the source code in use, it can lead to extra training and usage costs. It is advised that before building your new technology on open source licenses, you weigh the benefits and drawbacks to determine which works best for you.

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