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Research Software License

An important aspect of research software reusability is to give consent to third parties about how the software can be built, modified, used, accessed and distributed. Even if a code repository is made open, this is not equivalent to giving consent to use it. The consent is given by providing a software license.

There are many software licenses in existence. Many of those allow researchers to do very little, but some of them give more freedom to use and re-use licensed software. Licenses can either be Free or Proprietary, with Free Licenses further classified as Copyleft or Permissive.

The table below summarizes the main categories of software licenses.

Table of license categories
Source: The Turing Way

Free: Software licenses categorized as free deal with the degree of reusability, distribution and modification of the software.

Proprietary: If a software license is not free, it means it is proprietary. A proprietary license does not allow copying or modification of the software. Restrictions such as “Research only” or “Commercial use only” can be applied under a proprietary license.

If you are not sure about which software license to use, then you can use the Choose a License application. This web application will guide you through simple questions and list the most suitable software license options for your needs.

For other software license categories, please look at the Open Source Institute’s Open Source Definition and the Debian Free Software Guidelines.

Last modified:17 January 2024 12.29 p.m.