Open-source licensing: the importance of white and blacklisting policies

Open-source licensing: the importance of white and blacklisting policies

Defining these lists is crucial in ensuring legal compliance, reducing risks, and providing clarity to all stakeholders.

Published on 24th April 2023

Open-source software has become ubiquitous in modern software development, enabling developers to leverage and build upon existing code to create innovative solutions.

However, managing open-source licenses can be complex and time-consuming, particularly for large enterprises with hundreds or thousands of software components. To ensure compliance and reduce the risk of legal issues, some organizations implement professional tools to help them with license management for open-source plugins and components.

Defining Open-Source Licensing

Open-source licensing had existed since the late 1970s and early 1980s when Richard Stallman founded the Free Software Foundation (FSF) and began promoting free and open-source software. The open-source movement gained significant momentum in the 1990s with the introduction of the Linux operating system, distributed under the GNU General Public License (GPL). This license allowed the software to be used, modified, and distributed freely.

Over the years, many different open-source licenses have been developed, each with its terms and conditions. Some of the most popular open-source licenses include the GPL, Apache License, MIT License, and BSD Licenses. These licenses vary in restrictions and requirements, such as attribution and distribution requirements.

Today, open-source licensing has become a popular way to distribute software, with many organizations and individuals choosing to release their software under an open-source license. Open-source software has also become more widespread, with many businesses relying on open-source software.

What are Whitelists and Blacklists for Open-Source Licenses?

A whitelist of open-source licenses is a list of approved licenses that can be used in software development without further review or approval. The whitelist specifies the licenses the organization considers compatible with its policies and goals. Conversely, a blacklist of open-source licenses is a list the organization deems unacceptable and cannot be used in software development. These lists are often part of an organization’s licensing policy, which outlines the criteria for selecting open-source licenses.

Why Define a Whitelist and a Blacklist of Open-Source Licenses?

Defining a white- and blacklist of open-source licenses is crucial for organizations that want to ensure compliance with licensing requirements and minimize risks associated with open-source software. Here are some reasons why:

Ensuring Legal Compliance

Defining a white- and blacklist of open-source licenses helps organizations ensure that they comply with licensing requirements. By specifying which licenses are acceptable and which are not, organizations can reduce the risk of legal disputes and minimize the possibility of litigation.

Reducing Risks

Defining a white- and blacklist of open-source licenses can reduce the risks of using open-source software. This includes mitigating the risk of intellectual property disputes, ensuring license compatibility with existing software components, and reducing the risk of security vulnerabilities associated with specific licenses.

Streamlining Development

Establishing a list of acceptable and unacceptable open-source licenses can simplify software development by providing developers with clear guidelines on licensing requirements. This can reduce the time and effort required to research and evaluate licenses, enabling developers to focus on building software.

Providing Clarity

Creating a list of approved and prohibited open-source licenses can bring clarity to all stakeholders in software development, including project managers, developers, and legal teams. This clarity can help ensure that everyone understands the organization’s licensing policy and follows it.

The Importance of Policy

Defining a white- and blacklist of open-source licenses is only effective if it is part of an overall licensing policy. An organization’s licensing policy should outline the criteria for selecting open-source licenses, the process for evaluating new licenses, and the consequences of non-compliance. A licensing policy should also be regularly reviewed and updated to reflect organizational goals and priorities changes.


Defining a white- and blacklist of open-source licenses is crucial in managing open-source licensing policies. By doing so, organizations can ensure legal compliance, reduce risks, streamline development, and provide clarity to all stakeholders. However, it is essential to remember that defining these lists is only effective if it is part of an overall licensing policy that is regularly reviewed and updated.

In addition, it can aid organizations in effectively tracking and managing their open-source software inventory, providing visibility into the components being used and their implementation locations. Organizations can create a culture of openness and collaboration by promoting open-source software use and providing clear licensing requirements guidelines, driving innovation and growth.


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