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If your company needs to use, create, modify, or do anything else with software programs, you should know about the different types of licenses that are available. These licenses govern what you can do with the various software programs. Following the rules laid out under each type of license will help to ensure you do not break any laws or violate any agreements. There are quite a few different types of software licenses in existence today. The following is an introduction to the most commonly used options out there.

Open Source

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The first thing to understand is the concept of open source. When it comes to software, open-source code means that the code to the software is accessible to anyone, and they can use it in a variety of different ways. In most cases, this means that people can access, download, modify, and even sell the code if they choose.

Just because software is open source, however, does not mean that it doesn’t have any type of licensing restrictions. In fact, there are multiple different licenses that apply to open-source code. Understanding what each license type means is very important.

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GNU (General Public License)

A GNU license was started by the GNU project. This project is one of the earliest and best-known efforts to put some structure around open source software. The GNU project developed an operating system and does a lot of work to support their ‘free software movement.’ There are hundreds of different software options under the GNU license, and people can copy them to their own PCs, use them for any projects they would like, distribute them to others, and sell them with custom labeling. People can even edit the code of a GNU project and either distribute it using the same GNU licensing or rebrand it as their own. When using software under this type of license, it is important to acknowledge the original source of the software.

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Creative Commons

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Creative Commons is a software development platform that advocates for free and open-source software licenses. They generally recommend using the GNU General Public License listed above. They do, however, also have their own license system that is supported. Under the system, there are six separate Creative Commons license options:

  • CC BY – With this license option, people can distribute, adapt, remix, and built on material, but only if there is attribution to the original creator. Commercial use is permitted.
  • CC BY-SA – This option has the same attributes as the CC-BY license, but also includes a requirement that all adaptations of the original software need to have the same licensing type and terms.
  • CC BY-NC – With this license, you can use the material in any way that is desired other than for commercial purposes. The original creator must be acknowledged.
  • CC BY-NC-SA – This license is the same as CC BY-NC, but any modification must be released using the same licensing type.
  • CC BY-ND – This license allows for users to copy and distribute the material in question as long as it is unadopted. The creator of the material also must be acknowledged. Commercial use is permitted.
  • CC BY-NC-ND – This is the same as the CC BY-ND, but also restricts the use of the material to only noncommercial usages.

Make sure to note that the creative commons licenses are used in many different environments beyond just software. You may see these licenses applied to music, books, and much more.

MIT License

The MIT License is a very popular option because its terms are very brief and simple. The following will be found on (and must be applied to) anything with an MIT License. “Permission is hereby granted, free of charge, to any person obtaining a copy of this software and associated documentation files (the “Software”), to deal in the Software without restriction, including without limitation the rights to use, copy,  modify, merge, publish, distribute, sublicense, and/or sell copies of the Software, and to permit persons to whom the Software is furnished to do so, subject to the following conditions: The above copyright notice and this permission notice shall be included in all copies or substantial portions of the software.”

This is a very simple license that puts no restrictions on the use of the software other than that it needs to have the MIT License applied to it.

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Patented/Copyrighted/Restricted Licenses

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The above options are various types of open-source licensing. These are in contrast to the closed-source licensing that is used with software. In general, closed-source software will come encrypted or otherwise protected to limit the ability of most people to access the actual code. It will also often come with the requirement that a key or other tool be used to unlock access to it.

Most people are familiar with these types of closed-source software, which includes things like Windows operating systems, most games, and much more. In general, nobody is allowed to access, modify, resell, or do anything other than use this type of software without express permission from the owner.

Other Licensing Options

While the above options will make up the vast majority of software licenses, there are many others out there as well. If you want to use open-source software and it is licensed with something other than those listed above, make sure to do research regarding what rights you will have to the software’s code. Fortunately, most businesses will use either closed-source code, or software that is licensed using GNU, Creative Commons, or MIT Licenses almost exclusively.

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Choosing the Right Software License

Whether you are creating software or using it, you want to make sure you know what licenses apply to it before taking any action. This will help you to avoid any potential lawsuits or other problems that could occur when taking unauthorized action. If your company develops software, it is especially important to have a good understanding of the various software licensing options so that your code is protected in the way that you desire.

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Michael Levanduski

Author Michael Levanduski

Michael Levanduski is a writer with over 20 years of experience working in the IT industry. He regularly writes for a variety of different publications, providing content on a wide range of different topics, including multiple different niches within the tech field. He lives in West Michigan with his family where he enjoys camping, hiking, and of course, writing.

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