|"A manager's guide to the business and organisational applications of open source technologies"|
Why should you - as a manager - need to understand software license agreements?
Whenever you obtain and use software you are knowingly or not entering into a licensing agreement with the original author(s) of the software. Even if you pay for software, you do not usually "own" it; instead you are given license to use the software in a way that is defined by the license agreement. If you breach the license agreement - by for example giving away copies of proprietary software - you, or your organisation, can be held legally liable for the breach of the agreement and be forced to pay damages to the author of the software.
The use of open source software, too, is governed by license agreements. The difference between open source and proprietary software is that open source licenses actively promote the free spread of the software. This freedom granted by the open source licenses can come, however, at a price and with unexpected consequences. Indeed there have been legal actions brought against organisations which have released proprietary software systems that have included open source software components.
Just because something is free, does not mean that you can necessarily use it as you wish. This is particularly the case if your company is planning to release a software system which is based on open source software. As a manager in today's litigious society, you will have to have a good, basic understanding of the nature of software licenses, how they are used, and how they are enforced. Don't worry, however, there are also some organisations out there which protect the interests of the authors and users of open source software.