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#1 2012-10-12 23:13:10

bsilbaugh
Member
From: Maryland, USA
Registered: 2011-11-15
Posts: 141

Software licensing for research codes

I'm in the process of wrapping up my PhD, and I would like to make the software I developed to support my dissertation research available to the general community. The big question I'm faced with is, which license to use?

In additional to the standard disclaimer of warranty, and denial of liability, I would like to enforce the following:

  1. Fair attribution for my work. In my mind, my software contains original research, and is in many respects an extension of the papers I've published. It seems reasonable to treat it like a publication; e.g. if you use my codes for your own research, you should cite that somewhere in your own published work, and/or any software you develop using my codes.

  2. Allow others to freely (gratis) use, learn from, and build upon my codes.

  3. Require that any modified versions of my code be clearly labeled as such. For example, I don't want someone to hack my code, publish the horrible results, then attribute the bad results to my "official" release. Furthermore, I don't want modified versions of my code being released under the same name; ideally, I would like others to pick a new project name and then acknowledge its roots (e.g. Ubuntu is based on Debian).

  4. Prevent another entity from taking ownership of my code, or licensing derivative work in such a way that I can no longer continue development of my code.

I've read through the various license descriptions on the Open Source Initiative. It would seem that the GPL-3 covers most of these issues, except items 1 and 3. Items 1 and 3 are difficult in the sense that they deal with code output, which doesn't mesh well with the GPL philosophy (it implies a restriction on use). In some respects, item 1 is covered by academic/professional ethics, and may not be a real issue. GPL does address item 3 in the sense that any modified code be clearly labeled as such when "conveyed", but that doesn't mean that published results obtained from an in-house hack has to be clearly labeled as such (or does it?).

I hope items 1 and 3 don't make me seem narcissistic. It's just that in order to get research funding, people need to be familiar with the contributions I've made.

I'm leaning towards GPL-3 on the basis that it covers most of my criteria, it will mitigate the likelihood of me having to compete against a proprietary version of my own code, and it allows me to statically link to components of the linux kernel (which I don't currently need to do, but might in the future). The only other license that seems close to what I'm looking for is The CRAPL, but I would prefer to stick with something that has been carefully reviewed by an expert in copywrite law and intellectual property.

Any feedback from those familiar with software licensing is appreciated. Thanks.

Last edited by bsilbaugh (2012-10-12 23:14:41)


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#2 2012-10-12 23:46:33

nomorewindows
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Registered: 2010-04-03
Posts: 2,963

Re: Software licensing for research codes

I think it's tough enough to do a thesis without it being thrown out because of one word needs to be changed to differentiate it from someone else's.  I'm not aware of software being used in a thesis.  It is probably part of some "portfolio". 
If you write it, it's your copyright. 
www.nosoftwarepatents.com should be able to answer some of your questions, but only to the software side.
I guess you will have to "research" (pun intended) to find out how to make it comply with your thesis.

Last edited by nomorewindows (2012-10-12 23:48:17)


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#3 2012-10-12 23:59:20

Trilby
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From: Massachusetts, USA
Registered: 2011-11-29
Posts: 13,520
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Re: Software licensing for research codes

Have you checked out the creative commons licenses?  Ironically, the page you link to with a list of licenses is itself licensed under a CC license, yet it does not list those.

CC BY-NC-SA sounds about like what you are describing.

http://creativecommons.org/licenses/


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#4 2012-10-13 00:26:12

cfr
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From: Cymru
Registered: 2011-11-27
Posts: 5,661

Re: Software licensing for research codes

Sounds somewhat like the LPPL (LaTeX Project Public Licence) although that has additional clauses in to deal with "orphaned" software. (Basically, allows somebody to take over responsibility for code if you disappear and cannot be contacted for a specified period.)

But as Trilby says, one of the CCs is bound to fit. (The main issue with these is that there are so many variants of them. "It's Creative Commons" tells you effectively nothing.)


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#5 2012-10-13 00:37:01

bsilbaugh
Member
From: Maryland, USA
Registered: 2011-11-15
Posts: 141

Re: Software licensing for research codes

The licensing offered by Creative Commons looks appealing, and I may use it to share other research content that I generate, but it sounds like they do not address some of the more subtle issues associated with distributing software. See here.

EDIT: Nonetheless, thanks for the feedback. I do appreciate it.

Last edited by bsilbaugh (2012-10-13 00:38:54)


- Good judgement comes from experience; experience comes from bad judgement. -- Mark Twain
- There's a remedy for everything but death. -- The wise fool, Sancho Panza
- The purpose of a system is what it does. -- Anthony Stafford Beer

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#6 2012-10-13 09:39:23

lunar
Member
Registered: 2010-10-04
Posts: 95

Re: Software licensing for research codes

@bsilbaugh Do not use Creative Commons Licenses for software.  Creative Commons itself advises against this.

Item 1 cannot wholly be enforced within the scope of free software.  To place additional restrictions upon the output of your program, you need a custom license that is not free software anymore, and you likely need a lawyer to make such restrictions sound and fool-proof.  However, at least within the scientific community you program will be referenced even without a explicit demand to do so, if only because a paper that includes results from an unknown source will likely fail the review process and not be published at all.

You cannot prevent proprietary in-house hacks using your program.  For even if your license explicitly forbid these, you would by definition not come to know any violations, because these are in-house and never really published to a larger audience.  And even if you came to know such a violation of your terms, could you afford a lawsuit to enforce these terms?  I doubt so.

Item 3 is trademark law, not software licensing.  A license such as the GPL 3 covers source code and binaries only, not the name of a program.  Names are a separate legal entity and can easily be subject to different usage terms than the program itself.  For instance, while the Linux source code is GPL licensed, the term “Linux” is a registered trademark, and a separate license is required to use the name “Linux”. However, I am not familiar with U.S. law, so I cannot tell you how to actually register a trademark to have the name of your program protected by law.

Reading your first post, I think that your major fear is a proprietary fork of your program.  If so, use the GPL 3 because you have a much higher chance of enforcing one of the standard free software licenses than your own license.  License terms are vain if you cannot enforce them, and you cannot do so all on your own, the necessary law expenses will kill you, the more since you apparently do not intend to directly make money from your program.  For free software however, organizations like the Software Freedom Law center provide legal, and sometimes financial aid to enforce free licenses.

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