Software types and licensing

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Software types:

Any software has two forms: It's source code and it's executable binary form.

  • For binary form of a software, which has some copyright and is released under some form of software license, there are main two licensing schemes : Proprietory software and Free Software
  • Except software in Public Domain, all types of software are normally protected under some form of copyright.
  • For the source code of the software (both proprietory and free), there are different protection mechanisms, ranging from unprotected public license to completely protected trade secret.
  • A typical software license grants an end-user permission to use one or more copies of software, in ways, where such a use would otherwise may result in copyright infringement of the software owner's exclusive rights under copyright law. In other words, the copyrighted software only becomes usable by the end user, after the owner of the "copy rights" of the software grants some "usage" rights to the end-user.
    • When software is purchased "off-the-shelf", such as from a software shop, or internet website, it comes bundled with a license.
    • When software comes pre-installed on the hardware you purchase, (such as PC, laptop, etc), it comes as an OEM license.
  • FreeWare: Software that is available for use at no cost, OR, for an optional fee. Software referred to as freeware is almost always proprietary and closed source, and thus not free/open-source software. The author of a freeware usually restricts one or more rights to copy, distribute, and make derivative works of the software. Skype is one example. It is freely download-able, but it's source code is not available. Not even for Linux.
  • ShareWare: The word, or term shareware, refers to proprietary (close source) software, that is provided to users, without payment, on a trial basis, and is often limited by any combination of functionality, availability or convenience. Other terms used for shareware are trialware or demoware. Shareware is usually offered either with certain features only available after a particular license is purchased, OR, as a full version, but for a limited trial period of time. Once the trial period has passed, the program may stop running, until a license is purchased. Shareware is often offered without supports or updates, which only become available with the purchase of a license. Almost all commercial antivirus software are a good example of shareware.
  • Software license types: Mainly two types: Proprietory and Free/Open-Source Software
    • Proprietory: The software publisher grants a license to use one or more copies of software, but ownership of those copies remains with the software publisher, hence use of the term "proprietary". This license contains an extensive list of activities which are restricted, such as: reverse engineering, simultaneous use of the software by multiple users, and publication of benchmarks or performance tests.
    • Free software license: With a free software license, in contrast to proprietary software licenses, "ownership of a particular copy" of the software does not remain with the software publisher. Instead, "ownership of the copy" is transferred to the end-user. As a result, the end-user is, by default, afforded all rights granted by copyright law to the copy owner. Note that "copy owner" is not the same as "copyright owner". While ownership in a particular copy is transferred, "ownership of the copyright remains with the software publisher". Additionally, a free software license typically grants extra rights to the end-user, which would otherwise be reserved by the software publisher.
  • Open-Source software license: It is another type of free software license. But has further two categories:
    • Those that aim to preserve the freedom and openness of the software itself ('copyleft' licenses). An example of a copyleft Free Software license is the GNU General Public License (GPL). This license is aimed at giving the end-user significant permission, such as permission to redistribute, reverse engineer, or otherwise modify the software. However, these permissions are not entirely free of obligations for the end-user. The end-user must comply with certain terms, if the end-user wishes to exercise these extra permissions granted by the GPL. For example, any modifications made, and redistributed by the end-user, must include the source code for these modification. The end-user is not allowed to re-assert the removed copyright restrictions back over their derivative work. i.e. The end-user is not allowed to acquire/obtain the copyrights of this derived work. The copyrights will still retain with the original author of the software. All derived work must acknowledge the original author, and any subsequent authors down the line, who have modified this software source code.
    • Those that aim to give freedom to the users of that software (permissive licenses). Examples of permissive free software licenses are the BSD license and the MIT license, which essentially grant the end-user permission to do "anything they wish" with the source code in question, "including the right to take the code and use it as part of closed-source software", and release it under a proprietary software license. i.e. The end-user has the right to take the copy and take copyright of that software as well, without a need to acknowledge the original authors. Then (if he desires), the end-user "can" release his piece of work as a close-source proprietory software.
  • Public Domain: Being in the public domain is not a license; rather, it means the material is not copyrighted and no license is needed. Practically speaking, though, if a work is in the public domain, it might as well have an all-permissive non-copyleft free software license. Public domain material is compatible with the GNU GPL.

Free Software Foundation, the group that maintains The Free Software Definition, maintains a non-exhaustive list of free software licenses. The list distinguishes between free software licenses that are compatible or incompatible with the FSF license of choice, the GNU General Public License, which is a copyleft license. The list also contains licenses which the FSF considers non-free for various reasons, but which are sometimes mistaken as being free.


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