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Should My Business Open Source Its Projects?

Should My Business Open Source Its Projects?

Unclear about what open sourced projects are or want to understand the benefits and disadvantages of open source? Keep on reading to find out.

3rd September 2019

Most companies and individuals involved within the IT industry may already be familiar with the concept. Others might recognise the name but have no idea about the advantages and disadvantages it entails. Here are some of the important things to note when considering open sourcing projects.

What is Open Source?

When a project is open source, that means anybody can use, view, modify, and distribute your project for any purpose. Typically a company will have a service agreement with an open source platform for a particular project.

Still confused? Here’s an example to clarify how it works.

There’s a dinner party to which you bring a cake.

  • Everybody tries the cake (use)
  • Everyone loves the cake and asks you for the recipe, which you provide (view)
  • One of your guests suggests you add less flour to the cake (modify)
  • Another guest uses that recipe at a different dinner next week (distribute)

In comparison, a traditional closed source process would be going to a bakery and ordering a cake. You need to pay to have the cake and the bakery is unlikely to give you their recipe. If you copied the cake exactly and sold it under your own name, the restaurant could take action against you.

The Advantages of Open Source

Flexibility

To compete in the IT industry it is important to be adaptable. Open source enables technological flexibility by offering multiple ways to solve problems. It also helps prevent companies from getting blocked because a particular capability isn’t available from a vendor.

Speed

This form of project is conducive to speed. Once community versions are uploaded and the business problem is properly understood delivering value can occur immediately.

Cost effective

Typically more cost efficient than an enterprise environment. Open source is also easy to scale by starting with small community versions before graduating to a commercially supported solution.

The Disadvantages of Open Source

Not user friendly

One disadvantage of open source software is that most interfaces are not user friendly or easy to use. This makes incorporating the software into an organisation challenging as employees will need specific training.

Vulnerable to security breaches

Because the source code to a project is highly visible and easy to access, individuals can find vulnerabilities and leave security backdoors for future exploits. However, this can be prevented with regular updates and only downloading from reliable sources.

Liabilities and Warranties

Typically proprietary software has indemnification and warranty as part of the standard licensing agreement. However, most open source software licenses have limited warranty and no liability or indemnity protection. This is because they do not have complete control over the product and underlying code.

The Legal Side of Open Source

Creative work is typically under exclusive copyright. However, you will still need an open source license otherwise everyone who contributes to the project also becomes an exclusive copyright holder of the work. This would prevent others from using, modifying or distributing their contributions including you. Subsequently, when open sourcing projects it is important to take steps to protect your intellectual property.

Your company may also have to use specific licenses based on the project community or employer’s policies. Consequently, to avoid encountering such challenges and minimise your own risk you should contact a business lawyer.

Conclusion

It can be challenging to understand what is entailed in an open source project. However, this guide is a great way to develop your understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of such a project.

Don’t know where to start?
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Author
Gopi Giri

Gopi currently works in the content team as a Legal Intern for Lawpath. He is in his fourth year of a Bachelor of Law and Commerce (Accounting) at Macquarie University. Gopi is interested in cyber law and future innovations in the legal industry.