Licenses for Education Material

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Revision as of 10:53, 24 January 2008 by Arnulf (talk | contribs) (first try at argumenting for open document licenses)
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Any material that furthers and promotes the development, dissemination and use of Free and Open Source Geospatial Software is welcome.

An interesting thread on Copyright and publishing traditions in OSGeo's Mailing List and IRC has brought up several positions one of which is further discussed here. Please feel free to edit this page as it is not a final version but hopefully a good start only.


There are basically three different ways to go about this topic:

  • Ignore it. This is what most people currently do. Depending on the author's surrounding legislation this can mean different things. In the US all material that is not explicitly copyrighted ends up in the Public Domain. In German legislation all work of art is autmagically protected by an individual copyright (in the sense of the originator's rights "Urheberrecht") - only the commercial exploitation can be divested.
  • Publish it under a Free and Open License. There are several licenses to choose from, the most common ones are probably the CreativeCommons family and the GNU FDL license (find more details below).
  • Publish it under a proprietary license. You are not a bad person if you do this but you will restrict the potential that lies within you work. If you can, please reconsider your licensing needs, the below arguments might help you find your individual position.

If you can choose to select a license yourself because you are the creator of the work or have the copyright please consider the following arguments when selecting an appropriate license. If you are not the copyright holder please do not publish any material here or anywhere else on OSGeo servers without written consent by the respective copyright owner!

Types of Audiences

There are three distinct categories of people who *use* educational material:

  • Experts
  • Students
  • Professionals


The real Experts are the hackers, nerds and freaks who in many cases are also developers. They will not pay for courses because they are too damn smart. They will not offer courses themselves (which would be detrimental to the business of the creator) because it would bore them to death. But they still profit from having access to material because it will speed up understanding the corresponding FOSSGIS project. This will make them choose this project one over another one because good developers are also lazy. This is good for the FOSSGIS project and community because those people listen to what those real experts have to say, recommend, etc. Hard to measure - but unquestionably there.


They will not be able to pay high rates for individual courses, so that the Creator does not loose anything if they give the material away for free. Quite the contrary, when those students leave school and come into a position where they have to decide where to go they will probably remember. This is a long term strategy that has been pursued by all major market leaders.

Students can potentially also enhance educational material, keep it up to date, etc. But this can only happen if the material is available under a FOSS license

Locking away training material and treating it as "Intellectual Property" restricts potential for collaboration.


The characteristics of Professionals are that they have budgets to solve problems in a limited time. They will not try to learn how to solve their problem on their own with freely available material because they have the resources to do it professionally and get somebody to explain it to them. They don't have the time to learn it by themselves. If they don't have the budget, then they are not really professional.

Types of Beneficiaries

There are three distinct groups of people who *profit* from having course material released under an open and free license. These are:

  • Audiences (~users, as categorized above)
  • Creators (those who create the material)
  • Trainers (those who make money by using and disseminating the material)
  • FOSSGIS projects and communities that are in the focus of the training material


Audiences, beneficiaries and creators are interconnected and depend on each other. Creators have produced the educational material for some purpose, frequently to use it in training courses which also their source of income. In this case the Creator is also the Trainer. Creators produce material for target groups but Audiences can be broader than that. Educational material that has been produced for focused, solution oriented, professional, commercial training courses can also be used in university seminars. Vice versa material produced in universities can be the foundation to build commercially oriented courses on. The only precondition is that the license allows this.

Marketing and Promotion

All three audiences know who created the course material and will memorize them as the experts on the topic. The GNU FDL license has a clause where invariant sections can be defined, typically this could be the front page and back cover, there you can find the authors, company logo and web site links or the creators' individual address, contacts. Link to the repository where the document is maintained, mailing list or whatever you want to advertise as important for this publication.

Therefore all (potentially competing) Trainers who offer courses with material produced by the Creators will always advertise the Creators as the real real experts.

Collaborating on FOSS - The 2Ct. Rule

The Software Project will obviously also profit from good educational material and happily promote and disseminate it.