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Licensing and Policies

Why licenses for software ?
A software license  is a legal instrument, usually by way of contract law, governing the usage or redistribution of software.

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 potentially constitute copyright infringement of the software owner's exclusive rights under copyright law.

Software licensing is a contract of agreement between the software publisher and the end user, sometimes referred to as the End User License Agreement, or EULA. Though software licensing can be a paper agreement, it is most often embedded in the software itself as part of the installation process.

Why licenses for FOSS ?
first we need to understand that there are two types of software when we talk about FOSS. Open Source SW and Free SW. There are two types of licenses for above two categories. Since the definition on Free SW meets the features of FOSS, such licensing is widely used for FOSS products. FOSS licensing is basically use to inform the level of freedom that the user has. Depending on the level of need for using the product and source code, many FOSS licenses have been registered.

FOSS licenses use copyright law as a legal framework for applying their terms and conditions. In using copyright law the licenses are similar to proprietary software. However, FOSS licenses differ in the types of terms and have a different conceptual framework from proprietary licenses. Therefore FOSS licensing must be examined in its own context and without prior assumptions to ensure compliance.

There are four basic types of FOSS license: permissive, weak Copyleft, strong Copyleft and network protective. These can be placed on a sliding scale from licenses that do not have a perpetual grant to use, study, share and improve code through to licenses that perpetuate these freedoms through both traditional distribution and on the Internet. The fewest terms tend to be in permissive licenses and the most terms tend to be in strong Copyleft or network protective licenses. David Wheeler has created a

Graphic to visualize the relationship between various popular FOSS licenses using this scale.

Key examples of FOSS license terms can be found by reading the GNU GPLv2. This is the most popular license in the ecosystem, contains strong Copyleft provisions, and requires (among other things) attribution, access to source code, and for a copy of the license to be included with any code distributed in binary or source form. Many other FOSS licenses are broadly similar though they differ on details.

What is Copy-Left ?
Copyleft is a play on the word copyright to describe the practice of using copyright law to offer the right to distribute copies and modified versions of a work and requiring that the same rights be preserved in modified versions of the work. In other words, copyleft is a general method for making a program (or other work) free (libre), and requiring all modified and extended versions of the program to be free as well.

Copyleft is a form of licensing and can be used to maintain copyright conditions for works such as computer software, documents and art. In general, copyright law is used by an author to prohibit others from reproducing, adapting, or distributing copies of the author's work. In contrast, under copyleft, an author may give every person who receives a copy of a work permission to reproduce, adapt or distribute it and require that any resulting copies or adaptations are also bound by the same licensing agreement.

Copyleft licenses require that information necessary for reproducing and modifying the work must be made available to recipients of the executable. The source code files will usually contain a copy of the license terms and acknowledge the author(s).

Copyleft type licenses are a novel use of existing copyright law to ensure a work remains freely available. The GNU General Public License, originally written by Richard Stallman, was the first copyleft license to see extensive use, and continues to dominate the licensing of copylefted software. Creative Commons, a non-profit organization founded by Lawrence Lessig, provides a similar license called ShareAlike.

Government FOSS Policies
Having thoroughly reviewed the pros and cons of use of FOSS in government, many countries have drafted Government FOSS Policies. As James A. Lewis has described in the paper published by Center for Strategic and International Studies in 2010, titled, “Government Open Source Policies” , there have been 235 national level “Government Open Source Policy initiatives”.

He has analyzed those policy documents as follows;

Type of Open Source Policy Initiative

No of Open Source Policy Initiatives











Some countries such as Argentina has approved their Advisory level Open Source Policy as back as 2002. Most of the South American countries have made these polices mandatory. These policy initiatives could be either free distribution of FOSS CDs for government organizations as in India in 2005 or mandatory use of FOSS in public administration as approved in Belgium in 2003. Some countries such as India 2011 and Taiwan made it mandatory that all computer equipment procured for government should  be Linux compatible. Some policy initiatives have failed and such countries have gone for mild FOSS policy stances. However it is appears that complete migration of PCs to FOSS have failed in many situations.

FOSS Policy Situation of Sri Lankan Government
Though it is not widely publicized the Cabinet of Ministers has passed a resolution to promote the use of FOSS in government institutions and schools.

The Cabinet Proposal has been submitted by Minister Sarath Amunugama on 2009-01-21 for promoting the “English and IT Year” and it has been approved by the Cabinet of Ministers on 2009-01-28.

The relevant section of Cabinet Proposal (out of 10 proposals);
“To promote, as and where appropriate, the use of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) in schools and Government Institutions, following the initiatives taken by several States of India such as Maharashtra, Tamilnadu, Kerala, West Bengal and Assam and several countries such as France, Germany, South Korea, Japan, Australia, China and Brazil; saving thereby a substantial amount of foreign exchange that would otherwise have gone out of the country by way of license fees and at the same time providing a cheap and legitimate alternative to the purchase of illegal, pirated software by offices, schools, students and the general public which needs discouragement by the state.”

The approval has been granted to;
Promote as and where appropriate the use of Free and Open Source Software in schools and government institutions.

Although there has not been a wider consultation prior to that decision, it is a policy decision made by the Government of Sri Lanka.
The Ministry of Public Administration and Home Affairs has been assigned the task of implementation of all such proposals (may be because the subject of Public Administration was  in the portfolio of Minister Sarath Amunugama at that time)
However the adoption of such policy is yet to be materialized, may be mostly due to the lack of follow up actions.

FOSS Policy of ICTA
ICTA has approved a FOSS policy for its internal usage and it has no impact on the government organizations.