Be aware of legal risks with open source, says Eversheds

Understanding the risks and limitations of open source software and how to manage them is key for UK business, says a technology lawyer.

Simon Crossley,...

Understanding the risks and limitations of open source software and how to manage them is key for UK business,...

says a technology lawyer.

Simon Crossley, a partner at law firm Eversheds, said business needs to understand the implications of using open source software as well as the benefits.

Any business using open source software should manage it as carefully as proprietary software to reduce risk to the business.

Organisations should have a policy that ensures all use of open source software is recorded and that compliance with the relevant open source licence is checked.

Crossley said businesses should appoint an open source compliance officer or have a review group responsible for tracking obligations in terms of open source licences.

This approach ensures that any commercial software that is developed does not infringe the rights of any open source developers.

"Open source copyright can and will be enforced if all the conditions of the licence are not met," said Crossley.

In August 2008, the US Court of Appeals established the enforceability of open source licences under US copyright law.

Open source policy is also important in mergers and acquisitions to ensure that software assets of the companies involved are reflected accurately.

After Cisco acquired home networking firm Linksys for £272m in 2003 it was forced to release the code for several products created using open source software.

The open source code was covered by one of more than 60 open source software licensing agreements that required the publication of all derived software.

Crossley said Cisco's problems with Linksys show the importance of tracking the use of open source software and checking licensing obligations.

It also shows the importance of doing regular software audits to ensure that no developers within an organisation have used open source code without recording it.

"As open source becomes more mainstream, it is increasingly important for businesses to understand the rules that govern its use," said Crossley.



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