Public Code With Public Funds


Paw Prints: Writings of the maddog

Sep 24, 2008 GMT
Jon maddog Hall

I was summoned to a large bank the other day. This bank administers funds for various philanthropic organizations, and often oversees grants for software development.

The bank had an interesting idea. Since the grants they handed were purportedly for the "common good", why not make a stipulation that any software developed through a grant be a free and open source license?

At first the bank thought about insisting that all of the software be GPL. That way the bank could be assured that the maximum number of people could use the code that was developed with these philanthropic funds.

However, the bank worried about companies who wanted to take the GPLed software and make a significant investment of their own money in improving it. Would the wording of the GPL discourage the re-use of this code if the company investing their own money in the new code had to disclose all of their work?

Eventually the bank decided that the correct path was to have the copyright for the code transferred to the bank. If the bulk of the code was developed under the bank's financing, then the code would be licensed back to the developing company as GPLed code. If that company (or another company) wanted to make a significant improvement in the software with their own resources, then the bank would be able to license the code to them under a different Open Source license....the dual-licensing model, with a twist.

This model might also be useful at publicly funded universities for their publicly funded research projects. Those people and companies that wish to simply use the code and research created by the university would be able to do so under the GPL. Those that felt they needed a different type of license could go back to the University and negotiate for that different license.

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