the Open Source Infection Myth

"Most people now recognize that it is indeed safe to build commercial products on open source platforms. Regardless of the license, open source software doesn’t reach out to “infect” other software or hardware in ways that destroy the commercial viability of those commercial products, despite early FUD to that effect. Companies can safely write applications that run on top of any operating system, virtual machine, web browser, or other open source platform, without risking their own code. Most companies already do just that.

"Of course, care must be taken to follow the rules of the open source licenses that apply to the platform itself, particularly when copies of the platform are delivered to customers along with the commercial product. Free software doesn’t imply that there can be a free-for-all attitude toward respecting the intellectual property embodied in open source platform software.

"For many purposes, an analysis of the interaction between a commercial product and the open source platform on which it is built must start by understanding the dividing line (if any) between them. It is helpful to begin with an architectural diagram of the commercial product that clearly indicates what functions are performed by the platform and what functions are performed by the unique and perhaps proprietary software or hardware of the commercial product.

"The reason for this software architectural diagram is obvious: As long as the software works are independent in the copyright sense, any product developments on the platform side of the dividing line are subject to its open source copyright license, while the commercial side of the line is yours to license as you wish...

"The old models of commercial software product development are no longer sustainable. No company can afford today to start with a blank slate for its software-based products, and more and more companies are discovering that it is far cheaper to build on top of low-cost open source platforms than on proprietary ones.

"Among the costs of that free open source software, however, are: (1) diligent analysis to understand how your commercial products interact with the open source platform you use; (2) commitment to reciprocate whenever it is ethical or required by license to do so; and (3) effective policies and practices that allow your company to both take from and give back to the open source software commons."

Read more in an article by Jeffrey Rosen for PLI from which the foregoing was quoted.