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Technology lawyer’s guide: Different software license frameworks

You are a software developer and looking to develop a software using existing code that you got under a freeware, shareware, public-domain, LGPL or another type of software license framework. 

What can you do with this code? Can you create derivative works? Can you sell and distribute what you create?

In this article, we will look at the main software license frameworks out there and give you a high-level overview of what to expect.

We will look at:

  1. What is a software license?
  2. Public-domain software license
  3. Permissive software license
  4. LGPL software license
  5. Copyleft software license
  6. Proprietary software license
  7. Free software license
  8. Freeware software license
  9. Shareware software license
  10. Open source software license
  11. Not for resale (NFR) software license
  12. About our law firm

1- What is a software license?

Software License Framework

A software license describes the legal rights and obligations relating to the use of a software or digital material.

Under the terms of some licenses, you are required to pay and under others, you can get the software code for free.

2- Public-domain software license 

A public domain license, or an unlicensed software, is the most permissive type of license framework you can work with.

Under this license, the software comes without restrictions, so you can use it in any way that you feel like.

The software’s code is in the public domain therefore free for anyone to use.

3- Permissive software license 

Software License Framework

This type of license framework is probably the most popular license framework out there.

Under this framework, you will have the following licenses:

  1. Apache 2.0
  2. BSD (Berkeley Software Distribution)
  3. MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
  4. GPL (General Public License)
  5. Boost Software License 1.0

A permissive license does not contain a lot of restrictions governing its use.

Apache 2.0 is probably the most popular permissive license. You can use Apache-licensed software in your commercial projects without any charges.

For instance, the minor restriction that you have under an Apache-license is that you are not authorized to name your project similar to Apache or use their logo anywhere.

You are free to use a permissive software as you wish by modifying or redistributing it as you see appropriate.

You may use and incorporate the code of the software under a permissive license within your proprietary software without having to disclose the source code.

Typically, under a permissive license, only the original creators are attributed in any distribution of the software or its derivatives.

4- LGPL software license

LGPL stands for Lesser General Public License.

Under this license framework, from your own software, you can link to the open source libraries. If you keep the library as is, you can license your software under a proprietary license framework without issues.

However, if you use the open source libraries and modify all or parts of it or copy the code into your own software, then you will be forced to release your software under the same LGPL framework.

5- Copyleft software license

Software License Framework

The most common type of a copyleft license is the GPL license.

Copyleft licenses are reciprocal or restrictive licenses. 

Here are some of the copyleft licenses:

  1. AGPLv3 (Affero General Public License Version 3)
  2. GPLv3 (General Public License Version 3)
  3. LGPL (Lesser General Public License)
  4. Mozilla Public License 2.0

You are allowed to modify the code and distribute new works based on that code but you must license the new code under the same copyleft license.

Under this license framework, the original software creator wants to ensure that the software along with all of its derivatives remain openly accessible by all. 

As a result, any derivative work must also be distributed under the same copyleft license framework.

The Mozilla Public License 2.0 is a weak copyleft license where you are required to make your source code available and make modifications under the same license framework.

6- Proprietary software license 

A proprietary software license is copyrighted material that the software owner intends to protect.

Proprietary software licenses are the most restrictive type of license agreements as the rights on the software are reserved by the software owner.

Typically, under a proprietary license agreement, you are prohibited from modifying or redistributing the software product. 

Failure to respect the terms of a proprietary license can result in intellectual property infringement claims.

7- Free software license

Software License Framework

The underlying reason for a free software license is to allow the user to use the software freely, modify it and share it at will.

Most of the small downloadable utility softwares is distributed under a free license framework.

8- Freeware software license 

A freeware license will not require any monetary charges for you to use the software. 

Some of the most well-known freeware software licenses are related to Linux, Ubuntu, Skype, Adobe Acrobat and MySQL. 

Although they are free software, they are also considered to be open-source licenses.

9- Shareware software license

Software License Framework

A shareware software license, also known as a trialware or demoware, is a license to the software product for a limited time, free of charge. After the free time period lapses, the licensee will be required to pay for the continued use of the software. 

Under a shareware license, users are encouraged to make and share copies of the program. The more the program is shared, the more the software owner stands to gain when the free trial period expires and users need to pay a license charge.

Under the shareware category, you have several sub-categories such as:

  1. Adware: advertising supported software
  2. Crippleware: offers only basic and core software features
  3. Trialware: software available for a period of time after which it reduces its functionalities
  4. Donationware: software is fully available to the user where use is asked to make an optional donation 
  5. Nagware: type of software that reminds you to buy the software through alters, popups and intermittent messages 
  6. Freemium: the software is given for free and you can pay a premium for additional features 
  7. Postcardware: the software is made available to user provider the user sends a postcard or email to the software creator 

10- Open source software license 

The objective of an open source software license is to focus on the ability of the user to be able to modify and share it with others.

Open source licenses will not impose any monetary charges for you to use the software. 

Open source licenses do not always require a signed written agreement.

However, without signing the open source license framework, the licensee may not be able to freely distribute the licensed software without restrictions.

So you’ll need to verify the license terms to ensure that you will be able to create derivative works and freely distribute it.

11- Not for resale (NFR) software license 

A not for resale software license is typically granted for testing, preview and donation purposes. The software product is watered down from its full retail version under this license.

This type of license is given for testing and educational purposes.

Typically, this type of license is granted to a software reseller or a channel partner, value added resellers, so they can learn about the software internally.

12- About our law firm

Software License Framework

With the advancement of technology and creation of more and more software products and services, understanding the software license framework based on which you are using a software program is crucial.

If you use the software code to create a derivative product, are you required to release your own software source code? You must pay careful attention to the type of license you are dealing with.

Shareware, freeware, Not for resale, permissive license, proprietary license, copyleft and so on. Enough to get everyone confused.

At our law firm, our technology lawyers will guide you with respect to the type of license framework you are dealing with and explain to you the ins and outs of the software license framework.

Our law firm is located in the City of Montreal, in the Province of Quebec. Serving national and international clients since 2008, we are well-positioned in the technology law space to provide you with the needed legal services, consultation, representation and advice.

It will be our pleasure to help you with any questions you may have, don’t hesitate to reach out!

AK-LAW 

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