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When I open a new project on Github, I see a selection of licenses in a drop-down list, which currently looks like this:

None
Apache v2 License
MIT license
Affero GPL 
Artistic License 2.0
BSD (3-clause) License
BSD 2-clause license
Eclipse Public License v1.0
GPL v3
LGPL v2.1 
LGPL v3 
Mozilla Public License Version 2.0   
Public Domain (Unlicense)

As a US Federal government employee, if I wrote the code, is there a license from this list that is appropriate for me to use?

  • Hopefully we don't have all US agencies coming up with their own licenses, like NASA. (although, much NASA-funded software gets released under other licenses) – Joe Aug 23 '13 at 16:07
  • 1
    Good question, but perhaps a better fit for programmers.se? – David LeBauer Aug 23 '13 at 20:09
11

As a work of the US government, there isn't any license appropriate for the work, because it's already in the public domain (in the United States). So a license like the Unlicense (or CC0), in which the licensor is entering the covered work into the public domain, doesn't work. Some text that acknowledges the public domain status in the US is helpful (and desirable), but it's not a "license".

The above situation only applies to the US, unfortunately -- government works are potentially copyrightable in non-US contexts. So, some formal text or license that enters the work into the worldwide public domain is appropriate (and desirable).

My favorite example of this is what HHS has done on their ckanext-datajson extension:

As a work of the United States Government, this package is in the public domain within the United States. Additionally, we waive copyright and related rights in the work worldwide through the CC0 1.0 Universal public domain dedication (which can be found at http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/).

3

This ongoing discussion on the license for the White House Open Data Policy (Project Open Data) itself may shed some additional light on the issue.

For information about the differences between the various licenses, choosealicense.com is an invaluable resource.

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