Open Source Software

An open source license is a software license under which the copyright owner agrees to allow certain uses of the software without the need for each end-user to seek advance permission. Each of the over sixty different open source licenses has unique terms and conditions. The Open Source Initiative, a nonprofit organization, tracks the different open source licenses and provides copies of common licenses on their website at:

It is important to consider the distinct terms and conditions of these licenses when using code acquired under an open source license and when releasing code that you have written. To be sure you are following policy, review the University of California’s Open Source Software (OSS) Resources. These resources are offered to the UC-OSS community and are intended to help facilitate compliance while minimizing confusion.


Using Code Acquired under an Open Source License

Combining code acquired under an open source license with code that you have written can affect how you may distribute the combined software.

For example, the General Public License (GPL) is an example of a “viral” license. If code obtained under the GPL is combined with other code, the combined software must be released under the GPL. Using code acquired under the GPL, can, therefore, impede later research and hinder commercial goals (such as, for example, when software incorporating the code might form the basis of a start-up company). Additionally, because version three of the GPL (GPLv3) includes terms and conditions that are not acceptable to the University of California, UCSB will not authorize the release of any software that incorporates code acquired under the GPLv3.

In contrast, the Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD) license allows any user to use or redistribute code obtained under the license as long as certain minimal copyright notices and legal liability disclaimers are used. If code obtained under the BSD license is combined with code that you have written, the new software may be released under any terms and conditions including a traditional commercial license.


Releasing Code under an Open Source License

UCSB recommends that code be released under the BSD license because the terms of this license are consistent with the University of California’s principles of academic freedom and policies. If, however, the BSD license does not accommodate your goals, TIA can assist in drafting customized open source license terms.

If your UCSB research group is interested in releasing code under an open source license, please complete and forward the “Request to Open Source Software” form to TIA. Sherylle Mills Englander is available to assist and to answer your questions.