3GPP Library Licensing Case Study

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This case study, which originally appeared on Wazi, illustrates how OpenLogic addresses licensing issues that arise while certifying open source packages for inclusion in the Certified Library available on OpenLogic Exchange (OLEX). Enterprises considering using the 3GPP AMR Speech Codec Library should note its license model and thoroughly evaluate potential liabilities before deploying it.

Project Description

3GPP is a partnership of telecommunications-related organizations designed to create "evolved Third Generation and beyond Mobile System specifications". So, in other words, it's an effort to develop certain specifications relating to 3G mobile communications. The 3GPP AMR Speech Codec Library is a suite of tests for verifying that an implementation complies with the relevant specification.

License Issue

3GPP AMR Speech Codec Library was requested by an OpenLogic customer. Specifications can be a challenge because often times a specification itself is not open source but a reference implementation is, or vice-versa. During the certification process, OpenLogic could find no open source license or statements as to whether the project was open source, though a statement was found indicating that the specification is free for commercial use. The information included on the project website around legal issues was confusing and of limited use. Additionally, an unusual proprietary license was included with the technical specification, but not with the source code. This combination of circumstances made it difficult if not impossible to determine the actual licensing terms of the package. Our analysis determined that although it was free and the source was available, the licensing terms were not consistent with OpenLogic's definition of open source software. Normally, the certification effort might end here, but since this package was specifically requested by a customer, we escalated the issue to our legal staff.


The OpenLogic legal team returned the following assessment:
  • Neither the codec nor the specification appear to be released under any sort of open source license (or anything resembling an open source license). The terms under which they have been released are in question.
  • The actual origin of the codec also appears to be in question. While it may have come from the efforts of the 3GPP or one or more of its members, under what agreements(s) they were created and what rights have been granted by the authors is not clear.
Even after legal review, OpenLogic was still uncertain as to the origin, ownership and license terms of this project, though legal did confirm that it is not open source. We contacted the project community to request permission to distribute the specification in one customer's private library on a case-by-case basis and permission was denied. We informed the customer, which was able to update designs in order to avoid the use of this package.