Open-Source Compliance

A discussion of open-source compliance, the challenges faced when establishing a compliance program, an overview of best practices and recommendations on how to deal with compliance inquiries.
Compliance Challenges

Companies face several challenges as they start creating the compliance infrastructure needed to manage their open-source software consumption. The most common challenges include:

  1. Achieving the right balance between processes and meeting product shipment deadlines. Processes are important; however, they have to be light and efficient, so they're not regarded as an overhead to the development process and to avoid making engineers spend too much time on compliance activities.

  2. Think long term and execute short term: the priority of all companies is shipping products on time, while also building and expanding their internal open-source compliance infrastructure. Therefore, expect to build your compliance infrastructure as you go, doing it the right way and keeping scalability in mind for future activities and products.

  3. Establish a clean software baseline. This is usually an intensive activity over a period of time. The results of the initial compliance activities include a complete software inventory that identifies all open-source software in the baseline, a resolution of all issues related to mixing proprietary and open-source code, and a plan for fulfilling the license obligations for all the open-source software.

Building a Compliance Infrastructure

Here are the essential building blocks of an open-source compliance infrastructure required to enable open-source compliance efforts (Figure 2):

Figure 2. Open-Source Compliance Building Blocks

  • Open-source review board (OSRB): comprises representatives from engineering, legal and open-source experts. The OSRB reviews requests for use, modification and distribution of open-source software and determines approval. In addition, the OSRB serves as a steering committee to define and manage your company's open-source strategy.

  • Open-source compliance policy: typically covers usage, auditing and post-compliance activities, such as meeting license obligations and distribution of open-source software. Usual items mandated in a compliance policy are approval of OSRB for each piece of open-source software included in a product, ensuring that license obligations are fulfilled prior to customer receipt, mandatory source code audits, mandatory legal review and the process and mechanics of distribution.

  • Open-source compliance process: the work flow through which a request to use an open-source component goes before receiving approval, including scanning code, identifying and resolving any flagged issues, legal review and the final decision. See HP's “FOSS Management Issues” article at www.fsf.org/licensing/compliance for an example of a compliance process.

  • Compliance project management tool: some companies use bug-tracking tools that already were in place, and other companies rely on professional project management tools. Whatever your preference is, the tool should reflect the work flow of your compliance process, allowing you to move compliance tickets from one phase of the process to another, providing task and resource management, time tracking, e-mail notifications, project statistics and reporting.

  • Open-source inventory management: it is critical to know what open-source software is included for each product, including version numbers, licensing information, compliance information and so on. Basically, you need to have a good inventory of all your open-source assets—a central repository for open-source software that has been approved for deployment. This inventory is handy for use by engineering, legal and OSRB.

  • Open-source training: ensures that employees have a good understanding of your company's open-source policies and compliance practices, in addition to understanding some of the most-common open-source licenses. Some companies go one step further by mandating that engineers working with open-source software take open-source training and pass the evaluation.

  • Open-source portals: companies usually maintain two open-source portals: an internal portal that houses the open-source policies, guidelines, documents, training and hosts a forum for discussions, announcements, sharing experiences and more; and an external portal that is a window to the world and the Open Source community and a place to post all the source code for open-source packages they use, in fulfillment of their license obligations with respect to distribution.

  • Third-party software due diligence: you should examine software supplied to you by third parties carefully. If third-party software includes open-source software, ensure that license obligations are satisfied, because this is your responsibility as the distributor of a product that includes open-source software. You must know what goes into all of your product's software, including software provided by outside suppliers.

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i think more people should

508 compliance's picture

i think more people should read this article so that even they can be aware of all these techniques and tricks.

more article on compliance

Anonymous's picture

very good article. open source compliance should be part of the development process and it is often neglected until incidents happen. More articles on this topic would be appreciated.

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