An open-source license is a type of license for computer software and other products that allows the source code, blueprint or design to be used, modified and/or shared under defined terms and conditions. This allows end users and commercial companies to review and modify the source code, blueprint or design for their own customization, curiosity or troubleshooting needs. Open-source licensed software is mostly available free of charge, though this does not necessarily have to be the case. Licenses which only permit non-commercial redistribution or modification of the source code for personal use only are generally not considered as open-source licenses. However, open-source licenses may have some restrictions, particularly regarding the expression of respect to the origin of software, such as a requirement to preserve the name of the authors and a copyright statement within the code, or a requirement to redistribute the licensed software only under the same license (as in a copyleft license). One popular set of open-source software licenses are those approved by the Open Source Initiative (OSI) based on their Open Source Definition (OSD).
Around 2004 lawyer Lawrence Rosen argued in the essay "Why the public domain isn't a license" software could not truly be waived into the public domain and can't therefore be interpreted as very permissive open source license, a position which faced opposition by Daniel J. Bernstein and others. In 2012 the dispute was finally resolved when Rosen accepted the CC0 as open source license, while admitting that contrary to his previous claims copyright can be waived away, backed by Ninth circuit decisions.
The Free Software Foundation has a related but distinct criteria for evaluating whether or not a license qualifies software as free software. Most free software licenses are also considered open-source software licenses. In the same way, the Debian project has its own criteria, the Debian Free Software Guidelines, on which the Open Source Definition is based. In the interpretation of the FSF, Open-source license criteria focuses on the availability of the source code and the ability to modify and share it, while free software licenses focuses on the user's freedom to use the program, to modify it, and to share it.
There are also shared source licenses ("source available") which have some similarities with open source, such as the Microsoft Reciprocal License (MS-RL). They are mainly used by Microsoft and can range from extremely restrictive to comparable with free open-source software.
The case you referenced in your email, Hampton v. Paramount Pictures, 279 F.2d 100 (9th Cir. Cal. 1960), stands for the proposition that, at least in the Ninth Circuit, a person can indeed abandon his copyrights (counter to what I wrote in my article) -- but it takes the equivalent of a manifest license to do so. :-)[...] For the record, I have already voted +1 to approve the CC0 public domain dedication and fallback license as OSD compliant. I admit that I have argued for years against the "public domain" as an open source license, but in retrospect, considering the minimal risk to developers and users relying on such software and the evident popularity of that "license", I changed my mind. One can't stand in the way of a fire hose of free public domain software, even if it doesn't come with a better FOSS license that I trust more.
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