Intellectual Property Rights in India

Understanding Software Copyright and Licences

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Software licensing

Mains level : Read the attached story

This newscard is an excerpt from the original article published in The Hindu.

Does software have copyright? Even more specifically, is the Internet free inspite of software copyright? Are software programming languages free of cost? How does copyright apply to software?

Software licensing

  • A copyright gives a creator the legal right to own, distribute and profit from his or her creative work.
  • There are different kinds of software licences that allow free use of software:

(1) Proprietary License

  • There is proprietary software which is to be purchased as a one-time transaction or as yearly licences.
  • A popular example is Microsoft Windows which is purchased along with the computer or Microsoft Office which typically has a yearly licence that has to be renewed upon payment.

(2) Creative Commons licence (CC)

  • There is the Creative Commons licence (CC) which is public domain: any software or work that is in CC can be used and distributed free of cost.
  • For example, Wikipedia is under CC and hence its contents can be used freely with the condition that attribution is made to Wikipedia (this is called ‘Creative Commons – Attribution-ShareAlike).

(3) Permissive Software licence

  • Another form of free software licence is Permissive Software licence which is popular in the software developer community and in the commercial world.
  • This licence allows free use and modification of software. There are further specific licences under this category, like the Apache licence and MIT licence.

(4) Apache licence

  • The Apache licence is maintained by the Apache Software Foundation which is a non-profit entity.
  • Many popular and powerful softwares like Spark (used in Big Data) have been developed under Apache licence.
  • MIT licence is maintained by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and it covers hundreds of software packages including GitLab and Dot NET.

What are Open Software?

  • All free and permissive software licences are similar to Free and Open Source Software (FOSS).
  • This is a set of rules and free software brought under one umbrella in the 1980s by Richard Stallman, a famous computer scientist and activist.
  • FOSS maintains its own licence, called GNU GPL (Gnu’s Not Unix General Public Licence) to govern and distribute free software but it comes with restrictions that its adoption and modification be for free use.
  • In the software community, ‘open source’ means any of the above non-proprietary licences.

Who maintains open source softwares?

  • Open source software packages are developed and maintained by programmers from around the world.
  • Until the mid-1990s, the idea of the general public collaborating to create software for free seemed to be unrealistic and confined to small, elite communities.
  • However, with the success of a free operating system like Linux (which is under GNU GPL licence), many were convinced that open source could create sophisticated solutions because of access to top programmers around the world.

Is the Internet free?

  • To access and to create content on the internet, there are costs involved such as infrastructure costs like network cost and the cost to host and maintain the content.
  • However, the core of the internet itself is free: it is free to use ideas like linking contents on the internet, transferring them with a network software protocol and adopting the associated standards like maintaining the website address (Uniform Resource Locator-URL).

Are programming languages free of cost?

  • Until the 1980s, popular programming languages had a price but with the advent of Java in the 1990s and thanks to the initiatives of Richard Stallman and his Free Software Foundation in the 1980s, many languages, especially modern ones like Go or popular ones like Python are free.
  • Java is somewhere in the middle where there are free implementations of the language that most software developers use but there are also paid implementations provided by Oracle.
  • In general, the realisation in the software community is that a free language has widespread adoption and leads to the availability of an expert pool of programmers.
  • The last two decades have seen a proliferation of open source software and the future is even more exciting.

 

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