I'm releasing some code, what license should I be using?

| | August 4, 2015

I’ve been trawling through many pages about software licensing and it’s a real brain-beater. Legal stuff just isn’t interesting, although I do know that I must release my code under a license, otherwise I’d just end up with problems later on down the road.

So I’ve just finished a rich web-based media manager, and I’m getting around to releasing it. It uses jQuery (including a JSON plugin, and SWFUpload). All code is my own, apart from the JSON plugin and SWFUpload (both released under MIT License, which I believe allows me to use them, I hope).

My code will be open-source. There are a few things that are worrying me.

  1. If I release it as open-source, do I lose my rights as the original copyright owner?
  2. Really, which license should I be using if I want people to be able to use it for free, change it how they want, redistribute the ORIGINAL work (not the changed work).

Really, I just think I’m being over protective of it. All I want to do is release it to the public, but still retain my ownership over it, since I created it.

Any pointers as to where I should go? I’ve been looking at the GNU GPL, but not entirely sure.

Regards,

Jason.

EDIT:

After researching a lot more, I’ve settled on either the BSD or MIT License. I’ve read that the GPL license is a legal timebomb, not sure how true that is.

The BSD and MIT Licenses place little restriction on the end-user, basically: the copyright notice and license must be included in any redistribution of the software.

However, the BSD License does state this:

Neither the name of the nor the names of its contributors may be used to endorse or promote products derived from this software without specific prior written permission.

Any pointers as to which of those would be better?

2 Responses to “I'm releasing some code, what license should I be using?”

  1. My code will be open-source. There are
    a few things that are worrying me.

    1. If
      I release it as open-source, do I lose
      my rights as the original copyright
      owner?

    No, not under GPL, MIT or BSD. These licences in fact rely on your copyright as a means of placing conditions on the use/distribution of the code.

    You have the right to release your code under multiple licences — as long as you created it in the first place (or you use code under a licence agreement which permits this). Say if you release your code as GPL, then create a new version of the code, you do not need to distribute the new version under the GPL.

    The exception being that if you release your code as GPL, and someone else makes a derivative work, this person holds copyright over his changes and you can’t release a non-GPL version incorporating his changes without his permission.

    .2. Really, which license should I
    be using if I want people to be able
    to use it for free, change it how they
    want, redistribute the ORIGINAL work
    (not the changed work).

    In short:

    • Use GPL if you want to prevent people using your software in a commercial product without your permission.
    • Use BSD or MIT if you don’t care what people do with your software.
    • If you don’t want people to distribute modified copies at all, you need a different licence. Maybe start with a freeware licence and allow modification of the source code but not distribution of modified copies.

    Note, I am not a lawyer, this is not professional legal advice.

  2. Nowadays, the more liberal open source licences are usually the MIT license (here is my question on it) or the GPL. You can use these licenses and still be the copyright holder in both, but you just don’t limit the users as much.

    Creative Commons has some more restrictive licenses, so check those out. Some of these will allow redistribution of changed work, but only if it links back and adds a “not supported by” notice.

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