Blue Oak Council

This starter policy sets rules about use of open software within relatively small organizations that either don’t have lawyers, or have lawyers who specialize in areas other than intellectual property law. Organizations can use this policy to cover work by employees, contractors, and volunteers—anyone who uses or builds on software they find online.

Overall, legal risk to small organizations from using open software is low. Most issues aren’t legal, but social, arising when organizations new to open software trample on community expectations. However, many social issues point back to expectations expressed in software licenses.

This policy is a calculated compromise, designed for organizations without access to a lawyer. By focusing only on relatively simple licenses that almost never pose serious risk, this policy green-lights as much open software as possible, at minimum complexity cost. In other words, this is the 20% of our comprehensive policy that delivers 80% of its value, without the on-call legal department that policy assumes.

If you feel your organization runs particular risk of community issues, or of attracting lawsuits under copyrights or patents, consider changing the minimum rating in Rule 1 from “Bronze” to “Silver”. Conversely, if your organization runs very little risk of a community or legal problem, consider lowering the rating to “Lead”. For an example policy better suited to large organizations and companies with IP lawyers on staff, see the council’s company open source policy.

Starter Open Software Policy

A lot of software online is completely free to use and build on, but license terms, and their rules, vary quite a bit. To make sure we build good relationships with the open software developers we rely on, and to avoid legal trouble, we follow a few simple rules:

  1. We can always use software under licenses on Blue Oak Council’s license list with a rating of “Bronze” or better.

  2. We can always run software under the following licenses, but changing that software, building on it, or including it in software we share with others requires legal advice:

  3. Software under other licenses requires special approval. Ask before you start using the software, not after.

Blue Oak Council makes all example language available under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.