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elitecodex 03-15-2006 09:23 PM

Question about using open source software in a commercial environment
 
Hello everyone.

I have a question that Im not really sure how to figure out... more so of the legal nature.

I understand that if you develop something with open source software, then you must make the source for the software you developed available (even if you plan to sell it).

My question is, does the same hold true if your business does not sell the software, but a service that uses the software? For instance. We have a computer that our clients buy and it has Linux installed on it and a custom-application that uses a PostgresQL database as the backend.

However, we still own the computer, and are letting them use it on like a "rent" basis. Its a monthly service charge, and if they do not pay, we go in and take the device away. Its still ours, just installed and used at their location. So if someone were to ask for the sourcecode to our application, do we have to provide it to them legally? And why couldn't we just say "Its a custom application that runs on top of the linux kernel"?

Im not 100% clear on what and how software can be used in a business environment without hurting the bottom line. Can someone shed some light on this please?

Thanks

camh 03-15-2006 09:32 PM

Quote:

And why couldn't we just say "Its a custom application that runs on top of the linux kernel"?
You can. There are lots of commercial applications (aka closed source) that run on open source operating systems. As long as your custom application is indeed custom, in that your company has developed it themselves, you should be fine. Your custom software is your company's property, and thus it is up to the company whether it wants to disclose the source or not.

elitecodex 03-16-2006 07:34 PM

Ok. This application happens to be actually custom to our industry and application... so I wouldnt have anything to worry about there. So at what point would something we developed require the source to be available? I know there is some catch here... I just want to know how far I can take this in the business world and still make my boss happy :)

Thanks

camh 03-16-2006 08:00 PM

Here's a good resource that should answer all your questions: http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/gpl.html

IBall 03-16-2006 11:17 PM

As I understand it, you can write your own closed source application to run on the Linux operating system. However, if your program contains code that you have copyed from some other open source application, then your app must be open source too. If you simply use the services provided by another program, you can do what you like.

See the link in the above post, but also see some commercial programs that run on linux such as Crossover Office, Matlab... All are closed source, run on Linux, and are perfectly legal.

--Ian

foo_bar_foo 03-16-2006 11:42 PM

im no lawyer but i can give my opinion.

the first hurdle is if your application uses/is linked to libpq as it's client interface to PostgreSQL. PostgreSQL is of course distributed under the BSD license which is very liberal and with no open source requirement.
http://www.postgresql.org/about/licence
just some disclaimer requirements

HOWEVER (this is the catch you were asking about)
the copy i have here of (for instance) glibc is distributed under GPL license
there is no provision for linking closed source binary code under GPL and i believe what you propose IS a form of distribution so what you propose is illegal. i think.

you should feel free to contact richard and company and ask
licensing@fsf.org

also contemplate how making the source code available to your clients should they wish to see it may not harm your project or its profitability in any way ~

pixellany 03-17-2006 12:48 AM

Seems to me that an "elevator speech" on this might be:

Code that comes to you as open source must be maintained as such---ie you cannot "close it". You can however, keep closed that which you have created--but not in such a way as to also close that which came to you as open.

Example:
1. Grab the source from an open source application, add some clever mods, and then market/propogate the app as closed-source. NO--bad dog...

2. Grab the same application, and simply add a module or plug-in that does something clever--without disturbing the original code. Propagate it in such a way that the open source nature of the original is preserved. eg. SELL your clever module and then distribute the open-source apps with it as a convenience to the buyer. OK

TigerOC 03-17-2006 02:57 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by elitecodex
Hello everyone.

My question is, does the same hold true if your business does not sell the software, but a service that uses the software? For instance. We have a computer that our clients buy and it has Linux installed on it and a custom-application that uses a PostgresQL database as the backend.

However, we still own the computer, and are letting them use it on like a "rent" basis. Its a monthly service charge, and if they do not pay, we go in and take the device away. Its still ours, just installed and used at their location. So if someone were to ask for the sourcecode to our application, do we have to provide it to them legally? And why couldn't we just say "Its a custom application that runs on top of the linux kernel"?

From the above the client never buys the system as stated but merely rents or leases the hardware and installed software. No problem there.
I think you need to examine your motives in a moral light rather than in legal light. If you obtained other developers work free and modified it to perform a task in a different way is it morally right to make your modifications closed and charge for the source code?
My opinion is that such a route flies in the face of the GPL which is why this whole concept operates. If you want to develop your own applications and charge others to use it, do so by all means. To modify existing open source software and not contribute your ideas to the wider community as others have done before you, is to my mind morally wrong. These are just my own thoughts.

elitecodex 03-17-2006 05:45 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by TigerOC
To modify existing open source software and not contribute your ideas to the wider community as others have done before you, is to my mind morally wrong.

Couldn't agree more. I have no intention of hurting the open source community since I really like it. The application I speak of is 100% custom and written from the ground up. However, it will be linking against other libraries (libpq for one, glibc obviously, and perhaps others in the future... and I read online somewhere that linking to a GPL library is in fact like using the code )... hence the application would have to be open source.

Quote:

Originally Posted by pixellany
Seems to me that an "elevator speech" on this might be:

Code that comes to you as open source must be maintained as such---ie you cannot "close it". You can however, keep closed that which you have created--but not in such a way as to also close that which came to you as open.

Example:
1. Grab the source from an open source application, add some clever mods, and then market/propogate the app as closed-source. NO--bad dog...

2. Grab the same application, and simply add a module or plug-in that does something clever--without disturbing the original code. Propagate it in such a way that the open source nature of the original is preserved. eg. SELL your clever module and then distribute the open-source apps with it as a convenience to the buyer. OK

Seems logical to me, but using that same logic... what if I were to use an API that is open source. Or on a lesser scale... find a group of functions/classes online that I find useful, put it in a library of my own and make that open source... then write my propiertary app to interface with the library, would that still make it ok for it to be closed source?


I can see how the principles of the GPL can limit existing applications (for instance, I cant modify Apache and call it my own webserver). But I want to link to other libraries that may or may not be GPL libraries. Thats where Im seeing the area getting really gray.

I also read an article somewhere that stated something along the lines of it depending on the level of dependancy. For instance, a kernel module would have to be open source b/c its dependant on an open source application.

Dont get me wrong, Im not trying to find a loop hole, just trying to understand the specific boundaries since I can't seem to find the answers in the license itself (unless I keep overlooking it).

pixellany 03-17-2006 09:52 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by elitecodex

Seems logical to me, but using that same logic... what if I were to use an API that is open source. Or on a lesser scale... find a group of functions/classes online that I find useful, put it in a library of my own and make that open source... then write my propiertary app to interface with the library, would that still make it ok for it to be closed source?

I still think the simple statement applies: If you receive something that is open source, you must preserve it in that state---you may not cause to be closed that which was created as open.

foo_bar_foo 03-17-2006 01:56 PM

yea,
what we are dealing with here is the concept of what is a derived work.
its alot of things including a very grey area but "simple" it is not.
certainly the intention of fsf by moving away from LGPL is to limit this kind of thing. Not sure if they are correct or even on solid legal ground or not.


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