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Kevin Xu for COSS Media

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Open Source Creator Series, Part 3: How to Choose an Open Source License

This is Part 3 of our Open Source Creator Series on "How to Choose an Open Source License" to help you – the open source technology creators – understand and bootstrap some of the essential non-technical elements of building a successful project.

(See Part 1 – Licensing Fundamentals; Part 2 – Product Marketing)

Below is a ~20 minute video presentation by Heather Meeker that explains how you should choose an open source license. Heather is the preeminent open source licensing expert, wrote one of the definitive books on the topic "Open Source for Business", and is a partner at OSS Capital. (If licensing, as a topic, is completely new to you, I would recommend first watching Heather's video in Part 1 of this series on Licensing Fundamentals.)

Choosing a license for your creation can be stressful, so if you are feeling that way it's completely normal. What I love about Heather's info-rich presentation, from an entrepreneur's perspective, is it breaks down this seemingly complicated choice by answering some basic questions about your project:

  • How will the software be used and delivered: on-premises, Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) or a combination of the two?
  • Are you building the technology with the intention of building a business out of it? (This impacts whether you'd seek patent protection later on among other things.)
  • Who are your target users? (Fortune 100? Regulated industries, e.g. healthcare, financial services? Small and medium-sized businesses?)

Having answers to these core questions, which you should have anyways regardless of the licensing decision, will make choosing the right license much easier.

Please note: This presentation does not constitute legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. The principles presented here may not apply to the facts of your situation.


Top comments (2)

jankapunkt profile image
Jan Küster

Very underrated topic and the implications of choosing the wrong license were very good to be observed when the react patent clause debate came up:

kevinsxu profile image
Kevin Xu

Indeed. Along the same line, it's generally easier to switch a license from less permissive to more permissive, if you decide that your original choice was not the right now.

Similar logically to if you are building an open source project and a closed source layer around it, it's easier to open source some of the closed source components later, but very difficult to close off some once open components without killing your project or company.