Trend Watch: Open Source, Licensing

Stephen Yagielowicz
Open source — the phrase conjures up image of gratis software, propped up in popularity by the unwashed masses, who while possessing mad technical skills, lack the budget to buy a premium proprietary solution and thus labor over what is freely available.

How important a role does the licensing terms of a particular software application, tool or technology play in your decision process of whether or not to adopt it? Do you even read those terms — or do you blindly check “I Agree” and click the “Next” button? Will doing so cost you money in the form of eventual royalty payments — even for using something that you may get free today? Read on and find out, because here in this month’s column, we will examine how politics and shifting licensing terms affect the technology choices made by adult webmasters and other operators as they seek to define their infrastructure requirements and delivery mechanisms in an era where bottom line budget considerations are all too often among the only considerations.

First, it is important to note that software and other technology licenses come in many flavors; but for the purposes of this brief article, we will broadly define them as being either open source (and thus belonging to the community of its users), or as proprietary (and belonging to a commercial entity which sets the terms of its usage).

In the former case, WordPress is an outstanding example of a free, community-based platform that is popular within the adult community. Backed by donations and supported by its users, this blogging tool has gained a widespread following and a robust developer community that ensures its ongoing success. In the latter case, a good example is Apple’s iTunes licensing policy — which in part prohibits adult content from its App Store.

Not simply a matter of corporate preference, Apple’s iTunes policies have come to the attention of the Justice Department, principally in association with claims made by Amazon concerning unfair trade practices. Also not too well known among many adult webmasters is the requirement of fees from Flash users, set to come due in the near future — a factor influencing the choice of using the ubiquitous (and currently available for free) Flash, or a forever-free open source alternative, such as Ogg Theora.

Open source software offers a number of benefits, including basic auditability, cost effectiveness, flexibility in deployment, reliability and security. Proprietary systems, on the other hand, tend to offer superior accountability along with higher levels of support and a more finely tuned product for any given, more specialized task.

According to the open source Initiative, simply adding a copy of one of the approved open source licenses (, often in a file named “copyright,” is sufficient for publishers to make use of this licensing protocol for their software.

Open source software is also known as “free” software — and while “free” is often its retail cost, what open source truly imparts is the freedom to use, manipulate and share the program and/or its derivatives. The source code is openly readable and free to (re)use.

While authors may sell open source licensed software, they really may not be able to prevent their customers from selling it in the same manner. So how else do open source software publishers and developers make money if not by selling their wares? By offering those aforementioned premium support services and developing other revenue streams around their products, such as custom website hosting packages tailored to their product’s unique requirements — either as a provider itself or even as an affiliate of an established web hosting provider.

At the recent XBIZ Summer Forum in Las Vegas, a well-received seminar discussed how open source software enables many common aspects of adult websites, highlighting the industry’s interest in this “free” means of product development. One hot topic, also extensively discussed during the HTML5 session, was the licensing of video technology.

Serving as more than a vehicle of technological allowance, open source licensing is also a powerful weapon — allowing companies to target market-dominating competitors through the sheer developmental prowess that some open source communities engender.

For example, Google’s VP8 video format might have had a hard time competing with Adobe’s Flash, as another proprietary system, but now that it is open source licensed, VP8 could eventually unseat Flash as the online video compression format of choice — especially when those Flash usage royalty payments begin coming due in 2016.

Whether VP8 or a different choice, HTML5 brings open source video, audio and more to the web’s official architectural standards — and while proprietary formats such as Windows Media and even such widespread options as MPEG deliver quality results, they typically come at a price that is measured in dollars, euros and yen. open source licensing eliminates these financial barriers and gives developers the freedom they need to customize and improve upon any basic software offerings.

As more webmasters bring their sites in line with this latest specification, the use of open source applications will inevitably escalate. In turn, this will cause new types of licenses to be issued by software vendors hoping to compete using proprietary systems — and in doing so, they will face the same challenges as do adult webmasters who are trying to sell porn to an audience that is satiated on free content.

Just as few consumers enjoying free porn worry about pornographer’s profitability, so to do few webmasters using open source software waste much concern on a publisher’s ability to profit from its wares. As long as the software is free and it works, that is enough for many users — and a good enough reason for you to give open source a chance.


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