Need clarification on legal stuff around open source


I’m writing an essay on open source software and I was wondering if anyone had any knowledge of the subject; in particular, I’m looking at the life of the copyright. In terms of something like Linux, software developers are basically allowed to do what they wish as long as they do not modify the core kernel and always include it with every release of their software, right? In the case of the life of the copyright, the Linux kernel is only available as long as Linus is still alive right? Whereas something that is closed source like Windows has an unlimited life as long as the corporation is around, right? I read something about the long term viability and risks of open source and was just trying to clarify the little details. If anyone has any input on this subject, that would be great, thanks.


afaik Linus made Linux available under GNU public license. I don’t think that him beeing alive or dead will change anything here, at least i wasn’t able to find any part in the license text that covers this issue. GNU public license allows for modifications on the kernel code as long as the source including the original comments is made available again under the same license.
This way continuity as well as flexibility is ensured and i can’t see where long term availability is worse with Linux then with Windows which depends on a much more focused development by a single (if large) developer team and a single (if large) company.



Ah, cool… thanks for clarifying that for me.


Actually, while thinking of it, does this sound reasonable/crazy?:

I was thinking about how open source could be a liability in the long term for those using it to develop an IT infrastructure for themselves. Imagine some large company, or even country, that based their entire infrastructure off some flavor of linux over the other various forms of operating systems out there. Imagine years passing by, like a whole decade, and the entire infrastructure and its layers developed one on top of another have worked great until some new open-source platform comes out. Masses of developers switch over to the new platform and support and development for the older platform and its accompanying software ceases. And say the newer platform is so radically new that it offers enhancements beyond the old platform. However, this large company or even country has built so much around their original platform that it becomes cost prohibitive to even attempt switching to the new platform. In that case, could it be possible that open source would be a liability in the long term? And this is where I sort of stop and go “hmmm…” how would a closed-source situation differ or be the same to the above?

actually, thinking about it some more, I wondered… for the above situation, wouldn’t a closed-source software developer such as Microsoft provide for migration assistance? I mean, afterall, it’s the reason why many companies pay regular licensing fees right? Is there such migration assistance for open source?


Many of your questions depend on the license that the open source app is under. The linux kernel is under the GPL.

Every contributor to opensource owns the copywrite to the code they contribute. Here is a piece from the GPL faq:

Our lawyers have told us that to be in the best position to enforce the GPL in court against violators, we should keep the copyright status of the program as simple as possible. We do this by asking each contributor to either assign the copyright on his contribution to the FSF, or disclaim copyright on it and thus put it in the public domain.

We also ask individual contributors to get copyright disclaimers from their employers (if any) so that we can be sure those employers won’t claim to own the contributions.

Of course, if all the contributors put their code in the public domain, there is no copyright with which to enforce the GPL. So we encourage people to assign copyright on large code contributions, and only put small changes in the public domain.

First, technically Linux is the kernel, not really the operating system. The OS is Red hat or Suse or Mandrake. You can modify any piece you want, including the kernel. They have to release the derivitive works source code though under the GPL. Under other licenses like the BSD they can do whatever they want with it. They don’t even have to release the source code. This really depends on the license the piece is released under.

Linus only owns the parts he wrote but thousands of other people have written parts of the Linux kernel. They have either kept their license or given it up to the FSF or put it into the public domain.


That has allready happend to many companies over the last 30 years of computers. Many places are still using old VAX’s and Cray’s. Really simple, you have to move with the times. when the system stops working or starts having problems you have to start looking at moving it to a newer system. Untill then, if it still works, just leave it alone and let it do it’s job.

This is a pie in the sky thinking. The more things change the more it stays the same. What always happends when something new comes out that becomes popular. People adapt, people port their software to the new system. Things don’t happen overnight, it occurs over 5-10 years. If you don’t see it comming then its your own IT deparments fault for being stupid.

What is the difference between Microsoft and Open source in the long run? There is nothing stopping Microsoft from dissapearing either. Also M$ only provides migration assisance for operating systems 2 generations old. For example if your still using WinNT4 your SOL in M$ eyes when it comes to help. They have allready depreciated it. Your not going to get much more than 5 years assistance from them after a system is out of development…


Much thanks for the input Beaker. This whole thing around open source is a lot to digest… I just found a great article from that addresses this from the point of one who advocates closed-source, or what he calls “the old world.” Really interesting stuff… u could definitely take some crazily different points of view everywhere…


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