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Programming Languages: Open Source Versus Licensed

Software written in open source code is available to all who wish to use it at no cost. Programmers and developers can access the actual source code, modify the code, study it and improve the software. There are different types of licenses available for software developed with open source code. Both have advantages and disadvantages. Some licenses restrict how and if software can be used for reselling by businesses that developed it.

What Does "Open Source" Mean?

Open source organizations have set up a list of basic practices and guidelines outlining parameters around how to write software using freely accessible "open source" programming languages. The code for software developed using these languages is available to anyone who wishes access to it. Anyone has a right to use it and change it.

General Public License

Commonly called GPL, this is very complex licensing that does not allow incorporating routines created using the source code into programs for the purpose of reselling by a business. This license type prohibits commercializing the software resulting from open source code programming. As a small business, if your developers create software using GPL, there is no stopping anyone (be it a competitor or otherwise) from accessing the source code and using the program for themselves.

Berkley Software Distribution

Known by the acronym BSD, this type of licensing encourages the monetizing of programs developed under its umbrella. It costs nothing to set up and allows the user to minimize legal exposure while maintaining the ability to one day commercialize resulting software programs. Learn more about setting up a BSD license at Open Source Initiative.

Developers hoping to one day sell their software created using open source programming languages prefer BSD, because the license is simple, it keeps legal issues out of the way and it allows them to manipulate the code as they please. Others using the software are prohibited from using the copyright holder’s name when promoting or selling the software. This is to protect the copyright holder from litigation occurring as a result of modifications by another.

MIT License

Developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, this license includes language that is much more explicit in allowing users rights regarding using, copying, changing and selling of software developed under its umbrella. This license type allows anyone accessing the source code of the software to use the name of the copyright holder in the promotion or selling of the product. This can leave the copyright holder exposed to legal issues in some cases.

Businesses using open source programming languages need to decide on some type of licensing for their resulting product for their own protection, regardless of whether they decide to charge for the use of their software or not. Retaining a copyright of the original manifestation of the source code offers many protections and can lead to use in other, more profitable future endeavors.