[Linux-aus] Advice for releasing code

John Kristensen john at jerrykan.com
Wed Jan 21 14:59:41 AEDT 2015

Hello Adam,

On 20/01/15 15:50, Adam Nielsen wrote:
>> 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
> covered.
> 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
> department/organisation.
> 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
> conversations...
> 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!

Thanks for this. I was somewhat aware of a few of these issues/barriers,
but it is good to have them spelt out from someone who has gone through
something similar in the past.

Hopefully if Michael's suggestion about just approaching the lawyers in
terms of "this is what we are planing to do, how do we do it?" works we
can bypass some of these issues.


> Cheers,
> Adam.
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