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Open Source Software – in search of more content

Oct 31, 2014

Consumer expectations from games and apps are increasing all the time. The amount of content expected and devoured is often more than a developer can provide. 

More levels, more modes, more functions, more perks, more gadgets, more weapons and unlockables; the list goes on. As a result, games (although not necessarily apps) are becoming more expensive to create, as developers try to cope with consumers’ constant demand.

Looking for shortcuts and fixes is one way to cope. Many developers seem happy to provide technology and content on an open source basis. After all, open source software is used in most development projects these days, but it’s also an area that can bring a lot of risks and legal headaches. Therefore, developers really need to understand what open source software they are using and the terms of the licences it is provided under.

Many open source licences are considered “permissive”, which means they give users a lot of “freedoms” to use that open source software. Permissive licences like the MIT and BSD licences give very wide permissions, allowing that software to be modified, integrated and distributed as part of proprietary software.

Other licences are considered “restrictive” and are more concerned with ensuring that its open source software remains that way. The General Public Licence (GPL) is the most notorious (and also the most popular licence) in this regard, in particular version 2. The licence has been subject to a lot of scrutiny, but the general advice to developers creating games for commercial purposes is to simply steer well away from it. Under the GPL, open source software licensed under it is said to “infect” the code it is integrated into and subsequently distributed with, which could ultimately result in your product (whether a game, an app or other software product) becoming entirely open source forcing you to release it on to the terms of the GPL v2. Therefore, any proprietary element becomes lost.

As a development company, it’s really important to keep on top of open source software and licences being used by your developers. This is particularly the case if you’re looking to sell your company at any stage. As investors and buyers realise the extent to which open source software is being used, they begin to ask more and more questions, and require more extensive protections. The default question many ask is: does this company own all the intellectual property it has created? Where any open source software is used, the answer has to be “no”. However, keeping tabs on what open source software is used and making sure only “permissive” licenced code is integrated into your final distributed product, should make potential investors or buyers a little more relaxed.

If you’re worried about use of Open Source Software or have any questions, get in touch with the commercial contracts team on 0207 234 0200 of e-mail contact@waterfrontsolicitors.com.