Open source legal implications, licenses and their impact...
When you join a tech company, you usually end up signing some sort of employment agreement contract which, if you read carefully (you MUST read this thoroughly), probably states all sorts of restrictions on what you can or cannot do/own and the rights of the hiring company to own your work, whether it is during working hours or in your spare time including ideas you might have in the shower or anywhere else. In many cases, this extends to open source contributions that you might make which might be unrelated to anything you do at work.
As we grapple with a rapidly changing software and hardware industry where the open source juggernaut slowly, but steadily, steam rolls over proprietary software, we are faced with difficult and contentious issues of what "belongs" to the company (a proprietary, closed mindset) and what "belongs" to the employee that they can contribute towards during their spare time. Especially for contributions which are unrelated to the employee's day job.
So, it's imperative a developer/contributor understands the variety of open source licenses that exist, what they imply and how one should use them.
The choice of the open source license for a new project can directly or indirectly affect how it grows, how many contributors and maintainers it has, how it is used, whether people can make money using it commercially or not and, eventually, whether the project is sustainable.
Here are a few things to think about regarding licenses as you enter the world of open source:
- Talk to the open source office at your company and ask them for clear guidelines on what is your intellectual property and what is the company's. If you don't have an open source office, locate the legal department and ask someone in that team. If they don't know, talk to the legal department about your concerns and see if you can get some sort of guidance from them.
- Read and re-read your employment agreement to understand what the implications are for your ideas and contributions to open source. Does the company own any contribution you make regardless of whether it's related to work or not? Is it restricted to software, hardware, both? What about blogs, presentations at external conferences where you are not sponsored by your company, published articles in journals or technical magazines?
- Read, re-read and completely understand what the different types of open source licenses are - start with this site https://opensource.org/licenses/category. Also, look at https://creativecommons.org/licenses/.
- If you create open source software or hardware, ensure that you are clearly stating what license is used for contributions to that project. If you're unsure about what license to use, ask around, go to open source-centric meetups and talk to speakers to increase your knowledge and get help online. Also, see https://www.gnu.org/licenses/license-recommendations.html.
- If you contribute to existing open source software or hardware, ensure that you understand what license is used for your contributions and if you are allowed to share it, own it and use it as you and others intend.