[Linux-aus] Advice for releasing code

Adam Nielsen a.nielsen at shikadi.net
Tue Jan 20 15:50:51 AEDT 2015

> I would like to release the code under a free license, but because a
> large part of the code was developed during work time it isn't as
> simple as slapping a license on it a pushing it out to github.

Hopefully it is once you get the ok!

> I work for one of the Tasmanian state government departments, so
> before we "talk to the lawyers" we though it might be helpful if we
> could find any existing policies/procedures that exist within
> governments in other states or at a national level.

I only have experience with public institutions rather than government,
but the general attitude seems to be that nobody has anything against
releasing source code, although they are terrified that something might
come back to bite the organisation and need to be 110% sure they are

Generally this fear seems to come from not fully understanding how open
source works, so if you are going to speak to lawyers without an IT
background, don't focus too much on the significance of releasing the
code and focus more on how it might or might not affect your

In my experience the biggest two fears are that 1) someone might sue
your employer and 2) what you release might make your employer look
bad.  I think there's also often a 3) why do you even want to do this?

The first issue can be addressed by highlighting that the licence you
intend to use has clauses that protect your employer (those "use at
your own risk" parts.)

The second issue is a little tougher.  While you can supply a copy of
the code for someone to check, about all a non-IT person can do is make
sure the comments aren't full of expletives.  Really you as the
developer have to make the judgement call there.  If your open source
release is full of copied code under incompatible licences, probably
nobody outside your developers have the skills to pick up on it but it
will still reflect badly on your employer once a member of the public
makes the discovery.  So convincing everyone to take your word that the
code is good enough to represent your whole department in public is
probably the biggest hurdle.

The last point, explaining why you want to do this, can also be tough
because there is often the attitude that if there will be no immediate
benefit, why bother with all of this?  So make sure you have a few
reasons up your sleeve to explain why it's a good idea and what the
potential benefits are, specifically toward your employer.  A couple of
examples might be to raise our profile in the IT community, help
attract good employees, hopefully get code contributions from others for
free, etc.  Sadly I have found that the reason "because it would help
others and it's a noble thing to do" doesn't carry much weight in these

Either way I think it would be great if more government departments
released more source code, so best of luck getting your code out there!


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