NASA requests help finding gov't use of standard OSS licenses.

Tzeng, Nigel H. Nigel.Tzeng at
Mon May 2 16:13:21 UTC 2011

On 5/1/11 11:10 PM, "Ben Tilly" <btilly at> wrote:

>If you're OK with letting businesses take useful software that you
>release, enhancing it, and then trying to sell it (possibly back to
>you), then you should use a permissive license, like the MIT.
>If you would like to reduce the ability of private companies to sell
>your hard work, consider something like the GPL or even the Affero
>GPL.  (The second one tries to extend the GPL model to websites.)

While I have had sponsors (might be singular) indicate that they are
concerned about contractors enhancing and reselling products to them it
isn't a primary concern of many programs.  If a contractor spends several
hundred thousand dollars of internal R&D funds to enhance government OSS
software they are accepting the risk it never goes anywhere which it often

Being for profit companies they have a need to recover these costs on the
successful enhancements.  A sponsor who doesn't want to pay for the new
product can hire a different contractor to make similar enhancements to
the existing system which they maintain full rights to.

The desire for using OSS is to move away from vendor lock in and expensive
software deployment licenses.  Something that permissive licenses work
just fine for and licensing only actually a small aspect of the problem.
Current regulations provide the government full rights for developed
software (under most DFARS/FARS contracts...the government can accept less
rights but typically doesn't if it doesn't have to).  In theory you can
transfer a large complex system from one contractor to another.  In

GPL has all sorts of issues for complex systems that combine GOTS, open
source and proprietary software.  World Wind Java, for example, would be
far less useful under GPL than it is under NOSA and unusable by some
projects that have adopted it. For example we have a mixture of government
funded, internally funded and mixed funded (sponsor & IR&D funds)
projects.  In the later two GPL code is not useful.

GPL also has potential issues with rights granted to contractors under
FARS/DFARS. Contractors retain IP rights to the software developed under
DFARS 227.72 which would make using any GPL code within the program to be
very problematic even if all the new code is paid by the sponsor.

This is exactly why I suggest that any Government OSS be more Android like
based on Apache than anything else.  The GPL closed garden is great for
Linux (or SE-Linux) but not for something that has to interoperate with a
variety of development models.

More information about the License-discuss mailing list