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Under What License Will It Be Released?

“Open Source” is not a license, but rather a philosophical framework underlying a method of developing and releasing software. Anyone considering releasing code for public view already has a commitment to transparency. That is good, but it is also important to consider the legal aspects of the process of releasing code as open source. There are many open sources licenses in use. Some are standard and common. Others are unique to a specific project.

I think it is valuable to use a license that others will recognize and understand, both in the personal and legal senses. It is not helpful to release the code in a way that makes people fearful that a decision to use it could cause legal entanglements. This generally means using a license that has been properly vetted by lawyers and that is already in widespread use instead of inventing a new license or using one of the less common licenses that already exist.

Here are just a few license options to consider:

  • The GNU General Public License, or GPL, encodes both permission for anyone to copy, distribute, use, and modify your code, but also that all modifications and additions must also be released to the public under the same license. Those who want to ensure that the code may never be used in a proprietary product prefer this license. You can read more at www.gnu.org/licenses/gpl.html.
  • The MIT License states that anyone may copy, distribute, use, or modify the code without restriction. This is one of the simplest licenses available and may be read at www.opensource.org/licenses/mit-license.php.
  • The Apache License v2.0 enshrines the idea of a Contributor License Agreement, which may be important if your code has connections to a specific company. You can read more at www.apache.org/licenses.
  • You can use a dual license, one that allows free use of code for personal, non-profit, or academic uses but which places limits on commercial reuse, perhaps for a fee. This is a complicated option that must be considered, perhaps with something like the Artistic License 2.0, found at www.opensource.org/licenses/artistic-license-2.0.php.

Other licenses exist that may be suitable; however, these are widely used. The familiarity may be valuable. This web link is useful for comparing licenses and has a much more extensive list of candidates: www.opensource.org/licenses/alphabetical.

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