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Book Review - Intellectual Property and Open Source: A Practical Guide to Protecting Code by Van Lindberg

Category Book Review Van Lindberg Intellectual Property and Open Source: A Practical Guide to Protecting Code

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As a software developer, it's almost a certainty that you either participate in or use open source software somewhere in your computing environment.  But even though you may have the source code sitting in front of you, it doesn't mean you can anything you darn well please with it.  Van Lindberg's book Intellectual Property and Open Source: A Practical Guide to Protecting Code does a very good job in presenting the intricacies of open source licensing in a way that won't automatically put a developer to sleep.  Granted, there's still a lot of legal concepts to wade through, but in my opinion he hit the right mix between legalities and practicalities.

Contents: The Economic and Legal Foundations of Intellectual Property; The Patent Document; The Patent System; Copyright; Trademarks; Trade Secrets; Contracts and Licenses; The Economic and Legal Foundations of Open Source Software; So I Have An Idea...; Choosing A License; Accepting Patches and Contributions; Working With The GPL; Reverse Engineering; Incorporating As A Non-Profit
Appendices: Sample Proprietary Information Agreement (PIA); Open Source License List; Free Software License List; Fedora License List and GPL Compatibility; Public Domain Declaration; The Simplified BSD License; The Apache License, Version 2.0; The Mozilla Public License, Version 1.1; The GNU Lesser General Public License, Version 2.1; The GNU Lesser General Public License, Version 3; The GNU General Public License, Version 2, June 1991; The GNU General Public License, Version 3, June 2007; The Open Software License, Version 3.0

Lindberg accomplishes a couple of purposes in this book.  The first few chapters trace the history and general concepts of intellectual property law, such as patents and trade secrets.  This is necessary, in that it lays the groundwork to be able to understand what part of your work may or may not be covered by intellectual property laws.  While there are plenty of legal concepts and examples cited, he doesn't get so far down into the weeds as to make the material irrelevant to the target audience...  technology professionals.  The last half of the book then uses that foundation to talk specifically about open source software, licenses, and legal issues being faced today.  And really, it's more complex than you'd think (but isn't *anything* legal overly complex?)  Each of the licenses he covers has certain advantages and disadvantages that can make a significant impact on how you and others can use your software going forward.  For instance, one license may allow the user to use it in any way they see fit, including using it in their own non-open source software.  Other licenses actually force any software project using the open source code to also be bound by the same license, meaning that your work has to be made available in open source form to others.  Based on what you plan on building and how you want to market it, this could make the difference between a thriving business or a ruinous lawsuit.  And again, the writing is appropriate for the technology professional, not four year law students looking to become a partner and retire by the age of 40.

For anyone involved in creating an open-source project (or what they *think* an open source project should be), this should be essential reading.  And if you've ever downloaded something from Sourceforge to include in one of your own projects, you also need to read this to clearly understand your rights and obligations.  I know we techies would prefer to let other people figure out the legal stuff, but it's not worth it to have your next killer application idea bankrupt you in court...

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Thomas "Duffbert" Duff

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