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What is Open Source License Compliance?

Open source license compliance is the practice of being in compliance with all license conditions of all included third-party open source software. Most license conditions come into effect when open source software is reused or redistributed as part of some other software. License compliance is essential to avoid legal risks, respect the rights of original authors, and maintain the integrity of the open source ecosystem. Here are the key aspects involved in open source license compliance:

  1. Understanding License Terms: Different open source licenses have different requirements and restrictions. For example, the GNU General Public License (GPL) requires that derivative works also be open source, while the MIT License is more permissive, allowing proprietary use. Understanding these terms is crucial for compliance.
  2. Inventory Management: Keeping an accurate and up-to-date inventory of all open source components used in a project, including their versions and licenses in the form of a software bill of materials (SBOM), is a foundational step in compliance.
  3. Documentation: Properly documenting the use of open source software, including any modifications made to it, and ensuring that this documentation is accessible and comprehensive.
  4. License Notice and Attribution: Ensuring that license notices and attributions are included as required by the respective licenses. Many open source licenses require that original copyright notices and disclaimers of warranty be retained in all copies or substantial portions of the software.
  5. Source Code Availability: For licenses that require it (e.g. GPL), making the source code of the open source components, as well as any derivative works, available to users.
  6. Training and Awareness: Educating developers, legal teams, and other stakeholders about open source licenses and compliance requirements to foster a culture of compliance.
  7. Third-Party Software Audits: Conducting regular audits of third-party software to ensure that all open source components are identified and that their use complies with their respective licenses.
  8. Handling Violations: Developing a plan for addressing any identified license violations, which may include ceasing distribution, reaching out to open source developers, or replacing open source components that are incompatible from a governance point of view with other open source components or own code.