Many companies are now opting to use enterprise open source software (OSS) because of its many benefits. Open-source software allows quicker development cycles, lower costs, and flexibility to make changes and try new developments.
Also, some companies use open-source software to reach a wider audience, attract new talent, and better engage with their users. It has impacted almost every industry.
Some of the reasons some companies are reluctant to adopt open source are:
- A belief that open source is not secure.
- A perceived lack of support, documentation, and certifications.
- A conviction that open source is hard to control and audit, making compliance too challenging.
To help you enjoy the benefits of open-source software while avoiding the most common potential pitfalls, this article will cover best practices in three sections:
- Four things to consider before using open-source software.
- Reduce Compliance Risks: Understand Copyright and Licensing Terms
- How to manage documentation and ensure open source software compliance?
It may surprise you to learn that, depending on how you implement open source, security risks may be higher or lower than proprietary software. The risks may even be zero in some cases if you test the software and apply the following open-source best practices.
Is Open Source Right for Your Company? Four Things to Consider
Organizations that want to adopt open-source software should first assess whether the risks associated with doing so are acceptable. To determine whether adopting open source software is an option for your company, consider the following factors:
1. Your Company’s Size and Risk Tolerance
Smaller companies tend to be more risk-averse than larger ones and may be more reluctant to adopt open-source software.
2. Your Company’s Industry and Sector
Specific sectors, like banking and government, are subject to regulations that require specific types of software or impose other restrictions on what kind of software can be used.
3. Your Company’s Budget
Open-source software is usually less expensive than proprietary software. However, it still requires time and resources to implement them correctly. Organizations with limited budgets may be hesitant to make this investment.
4. Your Company’s IT Infrastructure
The complexity of an organization’s IT infrastructure can impact its ability to adopt open-source software. For example, suppose your organization uses many legacy applications. In that case, it may not be able to integrate open source applications into its existing IT environment easily.
Reduce Compliance Risks: Understand Copyright and Licensing Terms
Anyone can freely use, modify, and distribute open-source software as long as they abide by the terms and conditions of the license at the point in time when distribution occurs. However, failing to comply with the terms and conditions of a license associated with open-source software can result in copyright infringement.
Copyright protects the expression of an idea (not the underlying idea itself) in an original work of authorship. In addition to books, copyrights also protect software applications, including binary and source code.
Here is a Brief Review of Copyright as it Applies to Open Source Software:
Open source licenses provide the right to reproduce the software, create “derivative works,” and modify or distribute the software.
The term derivative work comes from the US Copyright Act. It refers to a new work that is based on original work but to which enough original creative work has been added so that the new work is considered an original work of authorship rather than a copy.
Distribution is the provision of a copy of a piece of software, in binary or source code form, to another entity or individual.
5 Tips for Managing Documentation to Achieve Open Source Compliance in the Enterprise
1. Know Your Open-Source Code
Organizations that use open-source software should have a process to ensure that all code coming into the organization is appropriately identified and that the organization complies with the licenses associated with that code.
Enterprise open-source software may come into your organization through various channels such as internal developers, third-party contracted developers, or other companies via commercial agreements.
An established identification process allows you to identify all incoming open-source packages and ensure proper compliance with their corresponding licenses.
How to Identify Licensing in Open Source Software Packages
Identifying licensing in open-source software packages can be challenging for a few reasons
- Enterprise open-source software licensing is often heterogeneous. A variety of licenses apply to various parts of an open-source application.
- Licensing statements are not uniform.
- The number of types of licenses is constantly growing.
Employ a licensing identification tool that can search all files within software content for license-relevant keywords, phrases, and text and compare it with existing license texts to identify licenses. A licensing identification tool is essential for complicated licensing situations. License scanning does not require a huge database. However, updates are necessary as licensing statements evolve, and new licenses are created.
A license scanner tool can summarize the licensing information for open source packages. Once a code has been identified, it’s crucial to determine which licenses apply.
Open-source licenses can be divided into two main categories
Under a permissive license, you might be able to modify and distribute the software without making your changes available to others.
Under a copyleft license, on the other hand, you would be required to share any modifications you make publicly. There may also be restrictions on using trademarks associated with the project.
After determining which licenses apply, you need to make sure that your use of the open source software falls within the terms and conditions of those licenses.
2. Know Your Supplier
Does your software supplier have an open source compliance program?
Some indicators of a supplier’s open-source best practices include:
- They conduct source code scans and audits.
- They release source code packages in compliance with open source licenses.
- They create and deliver open source compliance training to employees.
You can use a checklist available from The OpenChain Project to determine the extent of your supplier’s open source compliance program. You can also use the list to implement open-source best practices within your own organization.
3. Create Open Source License Playbooks
A playbook is an easy-to-digest summary intended for employees who want to learn about a given open source license, such as license grants, restrictions, and obligations. Typically, it will include a list of commonly used open-source enterprise software licenses within an organization and a one-page summary that provides essential information about the software’s license.
4. Develop an Open Source Compliance Policy and Process
The open-source compliance policy includes rules that govern various aspects of using, contributing, auditing, and distributing the best open source enterprise software. The process describes in detail the specifications for the daily implementation of the policy.
5. Provide Open Source Compliance Training to all Departments
All interactions and processes must include open-source compliance practices. Training will ensure that employees understand the company’s open-source policies, procedures, and compliance practices.
One of the wonderful things about open source software is that it brings different approaches to similar but different problems. As these practice-oriented communities focus on the power of collaboration, they generate original content based on the experiences and perspectives of their members.
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