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<title>Legal Issues in Free Software</title>
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<p id="category"><a href="/freesoftware/freesoftware.html">About Free Software</a></p>
<h1>Legal Issues in Free Software</h1>
<div id="introduction">
<p>
It is important when re-using and developing Free Software (also known as Open Source), to
also understand the legal issues surrounding them. Much of
these legal issues are focused around Free Software licenses,
and the rights and obligations that they provide and impose.
Having a basic understanding of these legal issues enable users
to effectively use and comply with the requirements of Free
Software licences.
</p>
</div>
<p>
You can follow <a href="/freesoftware/legal/faq.html">this link
for more Frequently Asked Questions</a> that can help you
understand the legal implications of Free Software licensing.
</p>
<h2>What is software licensing?</h2>
<p>
Generally, a license is an authorization to use, release, or
distribute someone else's property. This includes intellectual
property such as a piece of text, a song, or artwork. Software
licenses are therefore licenses that inform users of how the
rights holder over a piece of software (usually the author) wants
that software to be used, and what freedoms and/or restrictions
it has. Without a license, many uses of the software may be
prohibited due to the default application of copyright law.
</p>
<p>
A Free Software licenses is a software license whose terms allow
a user to obtain and enjoy the <a
href="/freesoftware/freesoftware.html">four freedoms of Free
Software</a>; namely, the freedom to use, modify, share, and
improve software. Conversely, the opposite of a Free Software
license is a proprietary software license, which restricts users
from enjoying any of the four freedoms of Free Software. Even
software that is distributed free of charge (gratis) can be
considered to be proprietary software, as long as any of the four
freedoms are restricted.
</p>
<p>
Copyleft licenses are a type of Free Software licences that allow
the user to enjoy the four freedoms, under the condition that
those freedoms remain intact in any further distribution of the
software or derivative works.
</p>
<p>
The absence of a license does not make a software Free Software.
Software is copyrighted by default, so unless it has been
explicitly and validly placed into the <a
href="/freesoftware/legal/faq.html#public-domain">public
domain</a>, using code without a license may be considered
copyright infringement.
</p>
<h2>Why should software projects use Free Software licenses?</h2>
<p>
Software is the most important cultural technology of the 21st
Century. It is almost impossible to imagine daily life today
without it. When others control a tool as important to society as
software, they can exert great influence over our lives and
actions.
</p>
<p>
For example, whoever controls the search engines that we use has
the power to determine what we find online; whoever controls the
software on which our online transactions are run can have access
to our personal data. It would be dangerous to democracy if the
critical social instrument that software constitutes were
controlled by only a small group.
</p>
<p>
The four freedoms of Free Software can therefore be applied to
hand control of the future of software back to the people. A Free
Software license is an explicit way of granting these freedoms,
so that users of a piece of such licensed software are able to
use, study, share and improve the tools that it provides.
</p>
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