Thursday, March 05, 2015

Why should research organisations release free software?

Research organisations protect software with Intellectual Property (IP) rights. Some of these IP rights authorise the release of source code but some prevent source code release. Within the organisation, a decision maker should ask herself:
  • Can the organisation pay a person or a group of person in years to come to maintain that program in the long run?
If the answer is no, read on.

Researchers frequently move to other job positions. Once a researcher has moved to another job, the software codes he/she wrote is likely to sit idle on the organisation's storage drives. When no insider knows how to modify a computer program's code, the value of that program for the organisation will depend on the possibility for outsiders to modify the code.
  1. If researchers outside the organisation are not allowed to update the software, it will not be used. IP rights preventing source code modification don't have any value.
  2. If on the other hand, the piece of software is released as free and open source software, researchers outside the organisations are likely to update the software once the need arises. IP rights ensure that the first creator's contribution with its organisation's affiliation remains cast in the software's stone. An acknowledgement mentioning the organisation will travel with the piece of software as long as this piece of code is useful. This is likely to attract future project contribution and funding to the host organisation.

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