Suppose I have the choice of license under which to publish my research work in Computer Science (constituting scientific papers and software) online; and that I need to make this decision before any journal or conference has accepted any of it. Specifically, suppose for the sake of discussion my academic employer would accept whatever it is I choose.

So, what to do, what to do... Is "better" or worse to put things in the public domain (e.g. via a CC0 dedication or otherwise), or to have a more rigid license? The FSF seems to be pretty critical of Creative Commons licenses, yet these can be seen at, say, arXiv... plus, I'm not sure I want to be all that legalistic with a 1000 pages of license text.

What should guide me when choosing the license, then? And what does your "licensing experience" teach you?

  • For software, the choice between BSD-style and GPL-style is ideological, and there's no way we can advise you. For the text, I don't think it's necessary or helpful to use a copyleft license such as CC-BY or CC-BY-SA, unless perhaps you think some of your figures are such classics that people will want to reuse them in textbooks, review articles, etc. CC licenses are a good fit for certain types of nonfiction, such as WP and documentation for open-source software. They're a poorer fit for fiction and for works of opinion such as reviews. An academic article is somewhere in between.
    – user1482
    Jul 26, 2015 at 17:53
  • @BenCrowell: I know more than one PhD candidate whose advisor took some of his work and published it as his (the advisor's) own, with no attribution. So it's not about your work being classic, it's about (the fear of) plagiarism.
    – einpoklum
    Jul 26, 2015 at 19:20
  • A license doesn't provide any benefit to the student in the situation you describe.
    – user1482
    Jul 26, 2015 at 20:34

1 Answer 1


CC licenses are good for the written word, but you need a software license for software. You're going to have to have two licenses at the very least. On top of that, depending on your publication venue, you may not have a choice of license. Many venues require the transfer of copyright in order to publish, so your license for your articles may not matter once you give up your copyright.

To answer your question directly, for publicly funded work, I prefer the 3-clause BSD over public domain for software, but this is partially due to my institution's requirement to either use GPLv2 or BSD for software. For documentation CC-BY is my preference, and I have no institutional requirements there. I have these preferences because I believe that publicly funded work should be as open and free as possible to the people (i.e. the public) that funded it, but I adhere to an academic perspective that credit should be given where credit is due.

  • Ah, well, I've had the "copyright transfer demand" thing brought up before. I made sure to already have a copy published before, after which I could say I can no longer surrender exclusive rights... (although, to be fair, my PhD advisor handled that, and I just didn't sign anything to avoid the argument.)
    – einpoklum
    Jul 25, 2015 at 21:50
  • 2
    @einpoklum That's only going to work so many times. If you have a prior publication, then many journals won't accept your articles. If you are difficult about your copyright transfers, you may have other difficulties publishing with more reasonable people. There are other options with some venues. The future may change if enough people resist the current model, but your life may be made more difficult on the way to making others' lives better.
    – Bill Barth
    Jul 25, 2015 at 21:55
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    Well, since I'm not currently aiming for a tenure-track position - I actually don't care that much. I am going to be one of those people who resist the current model.
    – einpoklum
    Jul 25, 2015 at 22:15
  • I wish you the best of luck. Publications matter for things in non-tradtional academic employment, as well.
    – Bill Barth
    Jul 25, 2015 at 22:18
  • Don't worry, I'll get published just fine.
    – einpoklum
    Jul 25, 2015 at 22:21

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