How to chose the right open license for commercialization

Over the last two months I have been working with the Norwegian agency for development(Norad) on their project EduApp4Syria and advising them on open source licenses and license for content being developed as a part of the project.

In general choosing the right license for your software and content is not a difficult process, but my advice is to think it trough and start with your goals for reuse and sharing, and let this be the starting point.

Historically, the GPL license family has been one of the most popular open source(Free software) licenses and I am myself a copy-left advocate. The GPL license is defined a Copyleft license.Copyleft is a copyright licensing scheme in which an author surrenders some, but not all rights under copyright law.

Under copyleft, derived works may be produced provided they are released under the compatible copyleft scheme. This means that in most cases the derived product can not be incorporated into proprietary products.

In this project Norad wanted to impose minimal restrictions in terms of commercialization of new products derived from the project. As many other large development organizations Norad have a strong focus on getting as much out of every invested dollar and going in to the project we look at The Principles for Digital Development where open standards and open source is set as one of the 9 principles.

An important aspect is to enable others to reuse both digital content and technology developed as part of the project, subsequently supporting self-enhancing diversity of production models and interactive communities. My advice in this case was to go for a permissive free software licenses.

So in this case, my advice is:

Both licenses allow others to reuse, change and distribute, even commercially.

This means that it is possible for anyone reusing the technology or content from this project to commercialize their product. BSD Licenses allows proprietary use and allows the software released under the license to be incorporated into proprietary products. However, we are receptive to feedback on these issues and the guidelines are intended only to apply to those who receive economic incentives.

The project is actually letting the marked compete in several iterations starting with a self made prototype. This lead us to the question on when the required should take effect. Our conclusion was that the open source license and Creative Commons will not be required for self financed prototyping and proof of concept development, lowering the bar for companies to use their mockups as input to the project.