Crowdsourcing license compliance with ClearlyDefined

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by | May 2, 2019

Licensing is what holds open source together, and ClearlyDefined takes the mystery out of projects’ licenses, copyright, and source location.

Open source use continues to skyrocket, not just in use cases and scenarios but also in volume. It is trivial for a developer to depend on a 1,000 JavaScript packages from a single run of npm install or have thousands of packages in a Docker image. At the same time, there is increased interest in ensuring license compliance.

Without the right license you may not be able to legally use a software component in the way you intend or may have obligations that run counter to your business model. For instance, a JavaScript package could be marked as MIT license, which allows commercial reuse, while one of its dependencies is licensed has a copyleft license that requires you give your software away under the same license. Complying means finding the applicable license(s), and assessing and adhering to the terms, which is not too bad for individual components adn can be daunting for large initiatives.

Fortunately, this open source challenge has an open source solution: ClearlyDefined.
ClearlyDefined is a crowdsourced, open source, Open Source Initiative (OSI) effort to gather, curate, and upstream/normalize data about open source components, such as license, copyright, and source location. This data is the cornerstone of reducing the friction in open source license compliance.

The premise behind ClearlyDefined is simple: we are all struggling to find and understand key information related to the open source we use—whether it is finding the license, knowing who to attribute, or identifying the source that goes with a particular package. Rather than struggling independently, ClearlyDefined allows us to collaborate and share the compliance effort. Moreover, the ClearlyDefined community seeks to upstream any corrections so future releases are more clearly defined and make conventions more explicit to improve community understanding of project intent.



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