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Institute for Legal Questions on Free and Open Source Software

I. General Aspects of Open Source Software

How can I use Open Source software? What rights of use do I acquire?

Every open source license that meets the definition of Open Source (→ What is Open Source software?) allows anyone to acquire comprehensive development and distribution rights.  The licensee is entitled to do the following with the software:

  • run it on his own hardware,
  • investigate it by decompiling and disassembling,
  • copy it and distribute the created copies,
  • distribute it to the hardware of his choice (such as a CD or embedded systems),
  • offer for download,
  • modify it and disseminate the changed versions in the source code or object code.

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May open source software be commercial?

Yes!  The freedom of use granted by open-source licenses also allows open source software to be sold or leased.  It is therefore a widespread misconception that open source software and commercial software are contrasting opposites (→ What is "proprietary software" or "closed source software?"). Open source software can be free, but not necessarily. » Weiter

What is "proprietary software" or "closed source software"?

"Proprietary" software is used as an antonym for open source software. It therefore identifies conventionally licensed software.  Although strictly speaking the term "proprietary" is inaccurate since open source software has one or more "owners" who are “proprietary,” i.e., the holders of rights), it is commonly used in practice.  "Closed source" is of limited use as an antonym since open source code is only one of several criteria that defines open-source software (→ What is open source software?).  Even software offered for free such as freeware can be "proprietary" because the licensee cannot acquire the same freedom of use as with open-source software.
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What is the distinction between "open source software", "freeware", "public domain" and "shared source"?

Open Source Software (→ What is Open Source Software?) is distinguished by its comprehensive utility which includes the permission to modify the software.

With freeware, the usefulness can vary widely. The only prerequisite is that the software is free (see → May open source software be commercial?). The rights holder does not have to grant any rights for development or distribution. » Weiter

What is the difference between "free software" and "open source software"?

Before the term "open source software" was introduced in 1998, software with the appropriate license provisions was termed "free software."  The definition of free software (http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/free-sw.html) therefore largely corresponds to that of open source software.  In terms of license law, the expressions are equivalent. However, the Free Software Foundation places great value on the term "free software" since they would like to stress the aspect of freedom. Which of the two terms one prefers is therefore more a question of taste and partisanship.

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What is Open Source Software?

It is generally held that in the definition of open source software provided at http://www.opensource.org/docs/osd correctly restates what the Open Source Community understands by the term "open source software." The decisive point of the definition is that the software license allows the comprehensive, free use of the program (→ How can I use open source software?) without providing any restriction of the licensee or areas of use, that is, it can be used by anyone for any purpose. The lack of license fees and the open access to source code are essential prerequisites for free use. The license agreement under which the software is offered is also decisive.
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