To be specific:

How would you include it as part of curriculum? Would it be too boring to just introduce them as a pure law subject? Are there any course structure available or can we derive one? What are the books that could be used?

I would like to see that - after going through the course - candidate is well aware of "what software licenses are and what they are good for". Various implications of not knowing it in it's proper sense. What licenses they should use for their own code. What to consider when they are trying to use certain libraries or tools in their project and gauge risks/rewards associated with it. The idea is to let them make informed choices when they are professionals/practitioners in field of programming and not make them substitute for a lawyer or even a paralegal who is going to fight the case or draft things.

  • An entire class? This is not a computer science subject, but rather a software engineering subject. – David Thornley Mar 15 '11 at 20:31

Definitely have a paper on software licensing OR teach it as part of software engineering. I am more in favor of the latter.

Some recommended books:


Must read link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_free_software_licenses

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  • 2
    +1 - It shouldn't require a whole semester to cover licensing, but it would fit well in a 2nd or 3rd year class that covers a wider range of topics about the business and legal side of programming and software engineering. – oosterwal Mar 15 '11 at 20:12

Teaching them why those licenses exist in the first place (small history of licenses) would be a good start .

For example in the 1980s , licenses were created to fuel the open source movement (like the BSD license , GNU license etc) .

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I think I would focus on the dangers of choosing the wrong source code license, or no license at all.

Ask your students questions like:

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In my second or third year of undergraduate education, my university offered a new course called Patents and Trade Secrets. Regardless of its name, it was a general intellectual property course geared toward engineers and scientists about various legal concerns that could arise in industry related to patents, trademarks, copyright, and trade secrets. When I took it, there were less than 10 people in the class and over half were enrolled in computer science, software engineering, information technology, or computer engineering. Therefore, parts of the course were tailored to include information relevant to the computing profession, such as patentability of source code and open source software licenses. Note that when I took the course, the university was on a quarter system, meaning the class met for a total of 4 hours a week for 10 weeks.

I think that this is an appropriate approach. Universities should offer an intellectual property course suitable for non-legal professionals in business, science, and engineering with the intent of exposing them to topics that might come up on the job. One of the topics, especially if there are a number of students in the computing field in the course, should be software licenses. I don't know how feasible it is to create an entire course on software licenses, in a 10 week quarter or a 15 week semester schedule, though.

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