- Paperback: 224 pages
- Publisher: O'Reilly Media; First Edition,Annotated edition (August 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0596005814
- ISBN-13: 978-0596005818
- Product Dimensions: 7 x 0.5 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 14 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #932,913 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Understanding Open Source and Free Software Licensing First Edition,Annotated Edition
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About the Author
Andrew M. St. Laurent is an experienced lawyer with a long-time interest in intellectual property, particularly software licensing.
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As a lawyer, Mr. St. Laurent does a very capable job in explaining the history of copyright law and then picking apart what the individual sections of licences actually mean. But he lost me early on by the very way he organizes and characterizes certain fundamental concepts, and this presentation is carried through out the book. At the outset, he talks about the fact that licenses are in fact contracts, but does not get into detailed discussions of how contracts are formed and the issues of contracts until Chapter 6. In this chapter he talks about assumptions about contracts and meanders his ways around to discussions of the required elements to have a contract, but never addresses them as such. Instead, he treats them as "concepts" as opposed to requirements. This discussion, which should have been covered in Chapter 1 as a succinct discussion of the required elements of a valid contract, easily gets lost as the readers may have struggled through all of the legal jargon and analysis that proceeded it. If he had done so, the discussion around each of the licenses could have been presented and understood in a more straightforward manner.
That leads to my second criticism of the book. He treats each type of license (GPL, MIT, BSD, GNU General Public License, etc) individually, which made it more difficult to cross reference. As a reader interested in the best type of license to work with or how to understand a license presented, I would preferred to have each element of s standard license discussed, followed up by a comparison of how each license type addresses this issue. At the end (or even as an addendum), a chart showing the relationships, restrictions, permissions, etc of all the licenses would have been very useful.
This is not to say that the book is without merit. He does make it easy to see how people and companies/corporations can easily slip up in how they approach open source/free software. He also talks about how these different types of licensing models have evolved over time. And without saying it, he started my mind thinking about the concept of "legal capacity" and contracts. In most of the United States, a widely held legal concept is that an unemancipated minor (i.e. someone under the age of 18) does have the legal capacity to enter into a contract and these contracts cannot be legally enforced. If this continues to be held as a legal principal, how can any software license be enforced against young people who buy, sell, trade, "liberate" ( a nicer word for stealing copies), or do other things with software they have purchased? This might make for an interesting discussion down the road.
So who should read this book? This book should be retained by business control, purchasing/acquisition and information system audit professionals as a guide when reviewing licensing issues related to internal controls and IS governance. These professionals should read and digest the material, with the help of legal counsel, and educate developers, administrators, and line of business project sponsors as to what it means and how it applies. It is not a book for developers and administrators should have themselves unless they really want to get into legal nitty gritty.
The Business Controls Caddy Rating: Bogey on Short Par 4.
Christopher Byrne, IBM CAAD/CASA
The Cayuga Group, LLC
"The Business Controls Caddy"
If you are considering releasing software under a free or open source license, this book does a fine job at comparing and contrasting the different types of existing licenses. It gives you examples from existing software projects of what types of things may happen with your software based on which type of license you choose to distribute your code under.
On the flipside, if you are considering using some of open source software in a commercial project, this will give you pointers as to what types of things you can and can't do with software licensed under the various free and open source licenses. The author's explanations are easy to understand.
It also describes the Sun Community Source License, which explains what you can and can't do with the Java source code, for example, which I found interesting. The only thing I didn't find an explanation for was why every license needs to USE ALL CAPS SOMEWHERE in the text... =)
The book does what it sets out to do; compare and contrast the various free and open source licenses.
The author gives a careful exposition of the many legal niceties surrounding open source licensing. He tries to convey nuances that are implied by the generous amounts of boilerplate quoted from common licensing schemes like GPL. Frankly, you may have to force yourself to concentrate and plow through the text. Unless your expertise is patent and copyright law, the book is not the easiest reading. No fault of the author. And the issues he discusses can certainly impact your company's code development.
The book is probably most suitable for an IT manager.
First off, it's not just annotated licenses. The first chapter and the last few chapters provide a perspective on licensing through the perspective of the open source software developer. That is invaluable. Without perspective the book is simply translations of legal mumbo jumbo. These perspective sections provide a mental framework for understanding the need for licensing and how it fits into the software development life-cycle.
I highly recommend this book to those who are confused by the morass of open source licenses. It effectively clears away the fog and provides both perspective and translation on this difficult subject.
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Understanding Open Source and Free Software Licensing is a very needed book and...Read more
Andrew M. St. Laurent