First Publication Date: 7th December 2009.
Today, Open Source Software (OSS) is being widely used in business as high quality software is being developed by open source communities. Most proprietary softwares have their OSS counterparts, which provide similar or better features. As integration of open source softwares into business is increasing, companies have evolved various business models for commercially gaining from OSS.
One of such models is the dual licensing model. Under a dual licensing model, a company makes a software available as an Open Source Software under an open source license and also makes the same software available under a commercial license. A person using the software may use it under the open source license or the commercial license. Generally, softwares governed by stringent OSS licenses such as GPL are viral and require a person distributing the modified software or the software combined with another proprietary software to disclose the source code and to transfer the software under the same license. To avoid disclosure of source code, companies prefer to take a commercial license over the software.
More often than not, companies using OSS under the open source license fail to disclose the source code and abide by the terms of the license wilfully, due to ambiguities inherent in the license or ignorance. Five years back, infringement suits against such companies was rare. But today, OSS owners have been filing infringement suits on a regular basis against companies violating the license terms. One such recent example has been provided hereunder.
Artifex is the copyright owner of a PDF rendering engine, called muPDF. The company makes the software available under General Public License (GPL) and also a commercial license. Artifex has filed a copyright infringement suit against Palm alleging that Palm has violated its rights by integrating its muPDF into its PDF viewer application and by not abiding by the terms and conditions of GPL. As Palm has neither complied with the terms of GPL nor has taken a commercial license Artifex has claimed in the suit that Palm’s use of its software amounts to copyright infringement.
Some of the leading companies that have taken a commercial license from Artifex include HP, IBM and so on. It will be interesting to note Palm’s next move. If the allegations of Artifex are right, Palm will most likely settle with Artifex and take a commercial license. This has been the trend in most OSS license enforcement suits.