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Open Source Licensing
The Office of Technology Management supports faculty who are interested in releasing software via open source licensing.
Free and Open Source Licenses (FOSS)
The Open Source Initiative (OSI) and the Free Software Foundation (FSF) are international, non-profit organizations that approve and maintain licenses. Such licenses meet the OSI and FSS definitions of what it means to be free or open source, and provide set of rights and obligations for use, making modifications, and sharing of software:
- Open Source Initiative (or OSI): https://opensource.org
- Free Software Foundation (FSF): https://www.fsf.org
The two organizations define open source differently:
Why use FOSS licenses?
Sharing of source code under known and well understood license terms facilitates creation, enhancements, and adoption of software by a community of users. Being exposed to scrutiny by a number of contributors and users can help increase the quality of the software. In addition, open source is one avenue to fulfill the requirement that software developed using Federal funding be made available to a wide audience. (Another option is to make software available for academic and research use).
Why work with the Office of Technology Management (OTM)?
You are not obligated to notify OTM before releasing software under an open source license, unless the software was created under a sponsored program agreement. We encourage you to contact OTM whenever you are considering open source, so that OTM can help with making ownership determinations in cases where multiple institutions and creators were involved in the software development. If software is owned by University, OTM can help with:
- Identifying restrictions that may come along with funding, collaborations, and/or use of 3rd party code
- Identifying possible obstacles to open source release, such as existing University patents for software algorithms
- Advising on the best license type based on the creators’ goals for advancing and disseminating software
Who owns software created in a University setting?
See the University's General Rules, Article III, regarding intellectual property: https://www.bot.uillinois.edu/governance/general_rules
and OTM’s guidelines for student ownership: https://otm.illinois.edu/disclose-protect/student-ownership-policy
What are some good open source licenses to use?
OTM does not have one preferred open source license. It is important to consider the goals for the software and pick the license that best suits those needs. Visit https://choosealicense.com to review some of the commonly used options and tradeoffs.
What if I have questions about FOSS licenses?
The OSI and the FSF have extensive FAQ pages:
What if I want to make the code available to others?
Before the code is made available to others, due diligence is needed to determine if the University has the rights to distribute the software. OTM can help. Provided that there are no obstacles, the next step is to decide on the right license and on a repository for the code. Some of the options are GitHub, a repository commonly used in a specific field of study, faculty websites, sourceforge, among others.
What do I need to do to copyright software I wrote?
Nothing. Copyright is automatic upon creation of software.
How do I tell others that the code is copyright protected?
Place the following in your source code file:
Copyright <year> University of Illinois Board of Trustees. All Rights Reserved.
You can also add additional information (e.g. name of creators, labs or center where software was created, etc.). More information is available here: https://guides.library.illinois.edu/c.php?g=636811&p=6624152
How do I distribute the code under an open source license?
Please place the copyright notice and license information in each source code file:
* Copyright <year> University of Illinois Board of Trustees. All Rights Reserved.
* Add any additional information (e.g. name of software creators, labs or centers, and other)
* This file is part of <project>, which is released under specific terms. See file License.txt file or go to <URL> for full license details.
Place a License.txt file in a distribution folder.
What if I want to make software available for non-commercial use only?
You will have to use a proprietary research or evaluation-use only license. Contact OTM at firstname.lastname@example.org to receive a copy of the license.
What if I am incorporating 3rd party software in the code I write?
Due diligence is needed to determine whether the license of such 3rd party software permits further distribution. OTM can help with the determination.
Can I mix and match code made available under different open source licenses?
It depends. Open source licenses have rights and obligations, and some obligations may conflict among different open source licenses. Contact OTM (email@example.com) if you have questions.
What if I have additional questions about copyright?
The University Library has resources to help with general information about copyright, fair use, public domain and more.
I found software on internet. Is it open source and can I use it?
The license information associated with the code has information about the rights given by copyright owners to users of code. If there is no license provided, you will need permission from the copyright owner. In certain instances, you do not need specific permission: a) if the code is in public domain; or b) if your use of the code is considered “Fair Use”.
Does it matter if I am working on software funded under a sponsored program?
It does matter. The language of the sponsor program award should guide whether there are any specific restrictions regarding open source licensing.
What if I think the software might have commercial potential?
Contact OTM at firstname.lastname@example.org.