Published on
January 6, 2023

Open-source License Compliance Tool: The Complete Guide

min read

Building an application from scratch can be challenging and time-consuming. There help leverage open-source components in the development process.

2022 state of open-source report

However, using open-source comes with its own set of perils. Failing to manage your open-source components properly can lead to several s compliance-related issues.

In this article, we’ll talk about everything related to open-source compliance— starting with its definition.

What is Open-Source License Compliance?

In simple words, open-source licenses let developers share their codes, like components, libraries, etc., with other developers. Once shared, other developers believe that they can freely use these codes without any copyright issues for their projects.

However, When someone uses open-source code, they agree to certain terms and conditions by signing a legal contract made by the original developer. This contract mentions everything the developer needs to follow while using open-source code.

Now keeping track of all the open-source components manually isn’t the most productive way; this has led the organization to embrace the utilization of automation in this process.

But here’s the thing— not every open-source license compliance tool can help you keep track of everything. You need a tool that can truly enable continuous compliance. So in the next section, we’ll discuss some of the essential features of open-source license compliance.

Essential Features of Open-Source License Compliance

Now we know what is open-source license compliance and how some tools can help us with it. But are there any specific features that an open-source license compliance tool should have to help your organization?

Here are some of the essential features that open-source license compliance tools should have

Copyright Detection

Open-source license compliance will help you scan the codebase to find licenses or copyright references. This will help you dig deeper into your open-source and proprietary database for licenses or copyrights that aren’t declared by a component but still have potential compliance requirements.

Thorough Scanning

The most basic task for any license compliance tool is gaining a complete view of your open-source components. The tool should conduct a comprehensive scanning to show all the dependencies (direct and indirect) and their versions, copyright details, and other related data. Moreover, it should have an inventory of open-source licenses with direct and transitive dependencies.

OSS Bill of Materials

An open-source software Bill of Materials (SBoM) lists all the third-party components used in an application’s codebase. The list also mentioned the licenses that govern those components, versions of the components used, and their patch status, which allows the developers to check quickly, and license-related risks available.

Any good open-source software compliance tool provides a comprehensive list of open-source components that are used within the software along with their licenses in the form of a SBoM.


Scanning any codebase comprehensively and accurately manually can be very tedious and time-consuming. This is where adopting automation helps-— it allows developers to scale and automate policy creation and enforcement. Here are four features that you should evaluate while choosing your compliance tool

Default-sompliance rules: Any good compliance tool offers pre-built options so that the organizations can pick from them, set up their process, and get going.

Easy-to-customize: Developers who want to create their policies governing OSS compliance should easily do it without any unnecessary hassles. Try to find a tool that offers an intuitive user interface that would make it easier for developers to set rules per their needs.

Automation: An OSS compliance tool should be able to automate processes wherever possible so that the developers can focus on other important tasks.


Developer adoption is crucial for any OSS compliance tool. Long gone are the days when security simply handed over a list of vulnerabilities and open-source components to developers to manage. Now tools are used to improve the work efficiency of developers by taking charge of numerous tasks of the developers.

Support and Integration

While the compliance or legal teams are generally asked to manage an organization’s OSS compliance program, they can’t do it solely. DevOps and engineering teams also play an important role in the process. That’s why it imperative the chosen OSS compliance tool boosts collaboration. To put it simply, the tools should be able to integrate seamlessly with your current software development environment. For example-

  • It should support a vast variety of programming languages and ecosystems.
  • It should get integrated directly into your CI/CD pipelines.
  • It should allow engineers to make fixes right through their native environments like Jira, Confluence, etc.
  • Issue Management

    License compliance is essential for any organization that leverages open-source codes. However, most organizations don’t have huge teams dedicated to managing tasks. So, a compliance tool should help the developers or security teams save time and fix vulnerabilities and compliance issues as per their severity levels. Tools that can also provide details related to the issue resolution, like the code that triggered the flag, access to dependency code, and more information related to the component, can be very beneficial for the remediation process.

    So these were the essential features that an open-source compliance tool should have. In the next section, we’ll discuss the risks re-associated with non-compliance with an open-source license.

    Risks of Non-Compliance with Open-Source License

    Several developers believe that OSS components is freely available and has no restrictions. This is wrong. Each OSS components’ license comes with its own set of terms and conditions. And failing to comply with those conditions can result in serious consequences. Here are some of the risks associated with non-compliance with open-source licenses

    Legal Risks

    As aforementioned, all the open-source components have some terms and conditions that anyone who uses those components needs to follow. Any violation attached to the licenses may result in a lawsuit against the organization or whoever uses those components.

    This is why it is compulsory to check all the terms and conditions before using the components and ensure that you comply with them when you use them in your application.

    Business Risks

    If an organization fails to comply with licenses, it can be exposed to business disruption. This is because some licenses may automatically terminate because of the organization’s non-compliance status. Now the status may hamper the product's distribution until the source code is released. The later a dependency is identified, the more costly it could be to resolve.

    Competitive Harm

    Competitors are always looking for loopholes to help them get an edge. And if there’s any issue related to non-compliance with open-source licenses, they might identify it and use it against your organization. This, in turn, can result in severe reputation damage.

    Source Code Version

    There are chances that you use the outdated version of an open-source component, and this could lead to serious security issues. The best idea here is to add a verification step into your compliance process to ensure that you’re using the exact code version corresponding to the distributed binary versions.

    Risk for IPO

    Lack of audit and plan to manage the open-source licenses can affect an IPO and slow down the process. Further, it can also reduce the IPO valve significantly. This, in turn, heavily damages the organization's overall bottom line.

    Some of the other risks involved are

  • Non-compliance can lead to negative press coverage and build a wrong image in front of the audience.
  • It can affect the users' trust and make them switch the organization.
  • It can damage credibility in front of the open-source community.
  • It can lead to losing money on restarting everything again and getting into the good lists of the target audience.
  • Dimensions of Open-Source License Compliance

    No matter how intimidating or dull OSS license compliance sounds, it is important for your application. As a part of an organization, here are three dimensions to consider while doing open-source license compliance

    Legal: The first thing that the developers need to consider is whether or not they comply with the terms of the used open-source components. In addition, they also need to check what the compliance needs them to do. Also, organizations contributing to the open-source must ensure that their legal teams have relevant experience related to open-source licensing. If they don’t have, the organization should be ready to take help from outside.

    Process: In organizations where open-source components are used in applications, someone should be specifically dedicated to managing open-source. Most organizations don’t treat open-source management as something that needs continuous management, but they need to be treated just as other important responsibilities.

    Culture: Organizations leveraging open-source need to nurture a culture where everyone cares about compliance. They need to build an environment where everyone takes ownership of every component they use in their products.

    Many organizations follow this approach to ensure they keep up with everything related to open-source. So if you’re using open-source, ensure you have something similar in your organization.

    How Can Scantist be the Best Open-Source License Compliance Tool?


    Here are some of the most prominent features of Scantist

  • Highly intuitive and developer friendly.
  • Conduits through automated scans that don’t need any human intervention once it is set up.
  • Provides an OSS SBoM with all the details to help developers fix compliance issues as soon as possible.
  • Supports a wide range of programming languages.
  • Shows a dependency and knowledge graph to help developers.
  • Easy to integrate into the current environment and supports several API integrations.
  • Questions to Ask for Avoiding Issues with Software License Compliance

    Here are some of the most basic questions that you need to ask to avoid common open-source licensing related issues

    What are the open-source components that are being used in the software?

    The answer will help you confirm that the software being used is open-source. If there’s any doubt, a body of work in the open-source community could help you understand what open-source components are.

    What are the specific licenses attached to the open-source components, and does it require anything for me to do?

    This needs you to check both direct and transitive dependencies and explore all the terms associated with both types of dependencies. Once explored, you must ensure you comply with all the requirements.

    How can I comply with those terms without hurting my primary objectives for the software?

    If you’re already complying, there’s nothing to worry about. However, some changes being compliant can be an issue if it contradicts what you’ve planned for the software.

    Can I automate the process?

    Doing everything manually isn’t the best idea in any acse. Tools like Scantist can help you automate the process and will only require your involvement if there’s any issue.

    To Conclude

    Open-source license compliance is mandatory if you’re using open-source components. After all, the risks associated with non-compliance of open-source components can’t be ignored. If ignored, the organization can lead to serious legal issues that can hamper the reputation of the organization to a great extent. So before it gets too late, you need to track down all the dependencies, either manually or automatically, and then work on ensuring open-source compliance.

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