Software licensing is a legal instrument that governs the use and distribution of software. It’s a way for the software’s creator to express what others can and cannot do with their work. When you’re developing research software, it’s important to choose a license that aligns with your goals for the research.

Before you choose a license, consider the following
  • Who wrote the software: are you the only author, and if not, are the other authors employees of your institution, students, or from an external party?
  • Who financed the research, and do the funders have a claim on the Intellectual Property (IP) of the funded project?
  • Are there IP agreements with external partners?
  • Is there a possibility the software can be commercially exploited and/or does the software present a novel technical solution to a technical problem?
  • Are you using or linking to software/libraries by others, and under what licenses were those published?
Choosing a License

There are many different models for software licenses available. The main types for open-source software are:

  • Permissive: a user can use, adopt and change the software, and distribute the derivative under any new license they want. For example if you created a Python code released under MIT license, then anyone can use a piece of your code for any purpose they want, but that doesn’t make them the owner of your code, you are still the owner.
  • Copyleft: a user can use, adopt and change the software, and distribute the derivative under the same copyleft license. For example if you created a Python code released under GPL, then anyone that uses a piece of your code needs to license it under GPL (derivative work)

Find more information on licensing on 4TU.ResearchData.

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

End-User License Agreements (EULAs)

In some cases, you might need to create an End-User License Agreement (EULA) for your research software. This because sometimes we don’t want to make the research application or code openly available for commercial purposes, but only for research. A EULA is a tailored license, which serves also as legal contract between the licensor and the user, establishing the user’s right to use the software. For instance, for teaching purposes.

Key points typically covered in a EULA:

  • The scope of the license, including any restrictions on how the software can be used: For example, the software may only be used for non-commercial purposes, or use may be restricted to registered researchers at a specific institution or within a specific field of study.
  • The term of the agreement and the conditions for termination: For instance, the agreement could be valid for a specific period of time (e.g., one year), after which it must be renewed. Alternatively, the agreement could be terminated if the user fails to comply with the terms of the license.
  • The licensor’s rights to make updates or changes to the software: For example, the licensor may reserve the right to release updates to the software and require users to install these updates as a condition of continued use.
  • The licensor’s liability for any issues that may arise from the use of the software: For example, a licensor may disclaim any liability for damages resulting from the use of a machine learning classifier that was developed as part of the software. This could include issues such as biased results due to the training data used, misclassification of data, or problems arising from the use of the classifier in an unsupported or unintended manner.

The Guide to Legal Issues in Open Source might be helpful for more information. While it’s not specific to the scientific domain, it does provide a broad overview of legal issues, including licensing, that can arise in open-source software projects. If you’re considering creating an EULA for your research software, it’s recommended to seek advice from your institution’s legal department. If you have any questions or need further assistance, please contact the RDM services.