A lot of companies joined the bandwagon when open source started to trend. Of course, who would not want the numerous benefits that this kind of software development can offer? Unlike licensed software, developers can have the flexibility to customize open source programs depending on their needs. It will not limit what you need to do in comparison to the restrictions placed by licensed software. If you have a great team of developers in your company then you can simply modify the software to your heart’s content. It is also supported by an online community that seeks to perfectly develop and enhance the source codes. Bugs can easily be fixed and upgrades are readily available. To top it all off, it is free! It will definitely lower your company’s production cost to 80%. You do not need to pay up annual fees for maintenance and upgrades. In terms of responsibility, all you have to do is to make the code available to public.
But it doesn’t always go well…
It seemed as if open sourcing is the perfect solution for everything and you can get away with practically all that you want to do. However, such is not what happened with Monsoon Multimedia. This company is known for its devices that enable users to watch videos from their television to personal gadgets such as mobiles and cellphones. This technology is made possible through the use of an open-source utility called Busy Box. The ruckus of Monsoon Multimedia’s lawsuit became a public spectacle when it drew the attention of the national press. Such case has never happened before and is the first of its kind. Now those who have been developing open source codes need to be educated on the legalities that come with the deployment of software.
The main reason as to why Monsoon Multimedia was sued was because it overlooked some of the technicalities that come with the usage of an open source code. Yes, the utilization of open source licensing permits developers to copy and modify the original codes. However, if it is going to be distributed, the developer must first make the source code publicly so that others can have access to it. This is the essence of free trade. The lack of public declaration of the source code became the point of contention of the whole Monsoon Multimedia scandal. They have been advised over and over again to make the code public but they never yielded to the request.
How to keep out of trouble
So what are the basic things that you must know in order to protect yourself against the kind of lawsuit that was filed against Monsoon Multimedia? Read on and you shall have an understanding on what you should keep in mind so that you will be able to stay out of trouble.
First and foremost is that you always have to keep your codes available to the public. There are copyright laws that strongly protect open source software so that they can remain “open”. Violation of this is the easiest way to be liable to statutory damages. Remember that even though you might have been the one to create the best copy so far, you still owe everything to the online community who has developed it from scratch to the state that you have found it. If you do not want to brandish the whole software for everyone to have a copy and be used for their own purposes, then play on the safe side and still publish the code regardless if you are going to be earning less because others may copy your work. That way, no one can accuse you of violating the most major rule of all.
Regardless if you are the top boss or just one of the executives of the company, it is your job to know what is happening on the ground. One of the reasons why Monsoon Multimedia fell is because there is no communication because their executives and the IT department. Probably, the executives do not have a full knowledge of the magnitude of what is happening so they disregarded the early warning signals of the lawsuit. Sometimes, executives are so disconnected that they do not have the slightest clue as to what comprises their products. As such, a regular audit should be established within the company whenever a product is to be released. In this way, it can already be processed if the product contains an open source code that has to be published for everyone to see.
It is has been found that your software has elements of open source codes, then you need to familiarize yourself with the Apache-2.0 license, GPL-3.0 license, and Software Freedom Law Center and follow the things that are being instructed there so that you can avoid being penalized.
You also need to submit a contributor agreement. Through this document, you can have the right to distribute open source codes. This agreement may be in the form of a Contributor License Agreement that will permit the original contributor of the open source code to retain the copyright or a Copyright Assignment Agreement that allows the transference of copyright to the ownership of the distributor.
The bottom line is that you have to be familiar with the laws of your open source license. If you are planning to release propriety codes that are in conjunction with open source codes, then be sure to secure a permissive license like LGPL. However, if your code is licensed under GPL then you might have a few troubles circumventing from your situation because this type of license only allows turning the code into something that can be profitable under special circumstances.
The cost of infringement
Under the law, infringement of the rules related to open source code could cost you around $20,000. The amount can reach up to $100,000 if the violation is done willfully. If there comes a time that you will be questioned regarding your practices, you are legally bound to prove that there is a breach of duty and that damages have been incurred.