Is GNU licensing recommended for software within an OER project?

In short, software is copyright material. Creative Commons can be used in order to license any copyright work, including software.  However, there are limitations to the CC licences particularly with regard to software and, where there are better licences available for your purposes (e.g. GNU), they should be used.  This is because Creative Commons licences don’t make provision for source/object codes. This view is supported by Creative Commons themselves at:

The licence attached to the software will determine what a user can lawfully do with it.  So, any licence attached to the software must be compatible with the code contained within it.

Many other licences are available that have been designed specifically for software.  To help you to decide which is the appropriate one for your project, further information on software licensing is available from: - Open Source Software Advisory Service. - Open source Initiative. The OSI are recognised as the body for reviewing and approving licences as Open Source Definition (OSD) conformant. - Free Software Foundation.
You can use a Creative Commons licence for any software documentation, and CC also provide human readable and machine readable metadata to 'explain' the licences.  These can be incorporated within the software licence itself.  Examples of these can be accessed at:

You should consider what you want the end user to be able to do with the software itself. That will determine the particular licence you choose to attach to the material e.g. do you want the user to be able to modify the code, distribute the modified source and distribute compiled versions of the program? Then you may want to use the GNU GPL v2 licence etc.

Provided you created the software, then the choice of licence is your decision to make freely. If someone else created it, you will need their permission to release the material under a particular licence.

As you are a member of staff in a university, OSS Watch provide free information about licensing to help you make this decision. You can contact them at:  It might also be useful to contact your OER programme manager for advice relating to this particular project.

Posted on 15/03/2010

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