Welcome to the Free the Code site. Free the Code is an initiative whose concept started with Open Source for America. And it’s a simple as this: We’d like government and the citizens, businesses and educational institutions it serves to get a bigger return on their technology investment and maybe even contribute to the innovation economy.
Okay that’s pretty broad, so let’s put a finer point on the idea. We think if the government pays for software – that’s either through its employes or paying contractors to develop new software – we think that should be made available for reuse and sharing. Could benefit other government agencies. Start-ups that could innovate upon. Non-Profits. Universities. And others we won’t think of now, but someone else will. But we do think releasing publicly-funded, custom software as open source is an idea whose time has come.
Our bright idea is not entirely new, In fact, some federal agencies are already doing this, but it hasn’t had much public discussion. That’s what FTC is about today; start the discussion, get people from different domains involved (beyond techies), refine the idea, and see what we can get done together.
We’re just getting started. But we hope you’ll stay tuned and participate as we begin a national conversation on the future of software in government.
In recent years, a number of US Federal Agencies have mulled over the idea of requiring software created as grant-funded research to be released under an unrestricted license, often as open source. Most notably, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has taken this tack since a 2011 Task Force made this recommendation, specifically recommending that
NSF should recommend open source distribution of software developed through its programs, while also recommending that grantees be aware of different open source license options and requirements at the grantee’s home institution.
Why the shift? With open source becoming increasingly mainstream, and its collaborative nature more fully understood, it likely comes down to a prefect triad of interests: Agency good stewardship of public funds; agency frustration with seeing government-funded software code often go unused; and visible public frustration with not fully benefiting from their tax investment in research and development.
While this makes a great deal of sense, a challenge remains with the grant recipient’s institution, where an institutional history of capitalizing on the value of intellectual property may still be the order of the day and open source may be less understood by a university’s legal team.
Here then are a few resources we’ve found for revisiting the research institution’s policy – from rationale to resource, sample policies and practical primers. Have some to share? Let us know.
- “Why Isn’t There More Open Source in Research?“ Josef Weinbub, Institute for Microelectronics, Technische Universität Wien
- “The Need for Open Source Software in Machine Learning” from the Journal for Machine Learning Research (download journal paper)
- “An Open Source Platform for Personal Robots ” Willow Garage (cogent argument contained for releasing research under an unrestrictive license)
- “Open Source Primer for Software Creators” Stanford University’s guidance
- “A Quick Guide to Open Source Software for the Scientist-Programmer“ Morin A, Urban J, Sliz P (2012) courtesy Public Library of Science
- “Why the Public Domain Isn’t a License” by Lawrence Rosen – Making the case that relying on public domain is not good enough for sharing software