Which License Should I Use?

Paul Rubin http
Wed Nov 30 07:04:50 CET 2005


Steven D'Aprano <steve at REMOVETHIScyber.com.au> writes:
> Then probably the best licence to use is just to follow the lead of
> Python. For that sort of small program of limited value, I put something
> like this in the code:
> 
> Copyright (c) 2005 Steven D'Aprano.
> Released under the same license as used by Python 2.3.2 itself. 

I've done that too, but some other post mentions that the Python
license is written specifically for Python and can't be used as a
"subroutine".  The original GNU Emacs license (forerunner of the GPL)
was the same way: it said stuff like "you may distribute copies of
Emacs if..."  instead of "you may distribute copies of this program
if...".  The GPL was the result of abstracting the Emacs license so it
could be applied to other programs, but doing the abstraction took
considerable thought.  It wasn't just a matter of patching up stuff
like the above.

> I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice, but I suggest that your
> *only* defence will be to get your employer to sign a legal agreement
> acknowledging that you own the code. If you like, offer them a perpetual
> royalty-free non-exclusive licence to use the code, and explain how using
> your own code will make you more productive in their time.

They may want to use it in a closed source product (GPL-incompatible)
which means in the case of GPL code, they want an exception to the
GPL.  In the case of GPL code written by me, I'm generally unwilling
to grant such exceptions, since part of my purpose of using the GPL is
to attract other contributors.  The company then has to decide,
either: a) accept the GPL; b) don't use the code, and do something
else instead, which may end up costing more.  

> If they refuse, then you must absolutely keep a cast-iron barrier between
> what you develop in your own time and what you develop in theirs. 

In some jurisdictions even such a cast-iron barrier might not be enough.

> Unless you explicitly sign them away (and even that is legally dubious)
> you still retain the "moral rights" to the code, 

The US doesn't recognize "moral rights".

> Please note that merely putting the code under a GPL or other OSS licence
> is NOT sufficient -- they must agree to let you DISTRIBUTE the code.

If it's under the GPL, they're not allowed to prevent you from
distributing it, if you have a copy.

> It need not be a complicated agreement: 

Certainly, the best policy is to discuss things beforehand and write
out an agreement, instead of relying on faulty memory, or springing
surprises.



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