Understanding Open Source Licenses for Commercial Software Development

Disclaimer: This is not a legal advise. Refer to https://opensource.guide/legal/ for more details.

There are legal and financial obligations in using an open source project in a commercial application. Before using any open source code/project in your application, look for the license under which the open source project is published. Some open source projects have separate commercial licenses. If you can afford, apply for a commercial license. The other option is to carefully read license and use the open source projects accordingly.

Below is a quick summary of different licenses:

MIT, BSD, and Apache These are permissive licenses. The only condition  is that the license and copyright notice files should be preserved in the final product. Commercial use of the software is permitted and this can be used in closed source projects.
GPL, LGPL & MPL These are restrictive licenses. If any GPL software code is linked in a project, the whole project becomes GPL by default. Source code of the complete project should be made available in that case. In LGPL, if modifications are done, source code should be made available for LGPL component only.  MPL & LGPL are safe to use in SaaS application code base.

 

Details summary of different licenses:

License Permissions Limitations Conditions
MIT License
  • This software and it’s derivatives can be used for commercial purpose
  • Users can modify this software
  • Users can distribute this software or it’s derivative work with or without source code
  • This software can be included with any closed source or commercial software. 
  • There is no restriction on the license of the larger work where this software is used
  • No Liability
  • No Warranty
  • Copy of license and copyright notice should be included with the software
BSD 3-Clause Clear License
  • This software and it’s derivatives can be used for commercial purpose
  • Users can modify this software
  • Users can distribute this software or it’s derivative work with or without source code
  • This software can be included with any closed source or commercial software. 
  • There is no restriction on the license of the larger work where this software is used
  • No Liability
  • No Warranty
  • No rights in the patents of the contributors
  • Copy of license and copyright notice should be included with the software
Apache License
  • This software and it’s derivatives can be used for commercial purpose
  • Users can modify this software
  • Users can distribute this software or it’s derivative work with or without source code
  • This software can be included with any closed source or commercial software. 
  • There is no restriction on the license of the larger work where this software is used
  • Express grant of patent rights from contributors
  • No Liability
  • No Warranty
  • Does not grant trademark rights
  • Copy of license and copyright notice should be included with the software
  • Changes made to the code must be documented
GNU General Public License v3.0
  • This software and it’s derivatives can be used for commercial purpose
  • Users can modify this software
  • Users can distribute this software or it’s derivative work with or without source code
  • This software can be included with any closed source or commercial software. 
  • There is no restriction on the license of the larger work where this software is used
  • Express grant of patent rights from contributors
  • No Liability
  • No Warranty
  • Copy of license and copyright notice should be included with the software
  • Changes made to the code must be documented
  • Source code should be made available when to software is distributed
  • Modifications must be released under the same license when distributing the software
GNU Affero General Public License v3.0
  • This software and it’s derivatives can be used for commercial purpose
  • Users can modify this software
  • Users can distribute this software or it’s derivative work with or without source code
  • This software can be included with any closed source or commercial software. 
  • There is no restriction on the license of the larger work where this software is used
  • Express grant of patent rights from contributors
  • No Liability
  • No Warranty
  • Copy of license and copyright notice should be included with the software
  • Changes made to the code must be documented
  • Source code should be made available when to software is distributed
  • Modifications must be released under the same license when distributing the software (This condition may not apply to some projects that use the software as library)
Mozilla Public License 2.0
  • This software and it’s derivatives can be used for commercial purpose
  • Users can modify this software
  • Users can distribute this software or it’s derivative work with or without source code
  • This software can be included with any closed source or commercial software. 
  • There is no restriction on the license of the larger work where this software is used
  • Express grant of patent rights from contributors
  • No Liability
  • No Warranty
  • Does not grant trademark rights
  • Copy of license and copyright notice should be included with the software
  • Source code should be made available when to software is distributed
  • Modifications must be released under the same license when distributing the software (This condition may not apply in some cases)

 

 

References:

https://thebetterstory.co/the-saas-developers-uber-short-guide-to-using-open-source-projects-f32511fe118d

https://www.computer.org/csdl/proceedings/seaa/2010/7901/00/05598103.pdf

https://opensource.guide/legal/

 

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