Open Source Policy
An open source team
Skylight is a digital consultancy whose mission is to make government work in a digital world. This requires flexibility in how we code, with a focus on lowering costs and accelerating the delivery of value for government organizations.
Our default position when developing new projects is to:
- Use Free and Open Source Software (FOSS), which is software that doesn’t charge users a purchase or licensing fee for modifying or redistributing the source code, in our projects and contribute back to the open source community.
- Develop our work in the open.
- Publish publicly all source code created or modified by us, whether developed in-house, in collaboration with government clients, or through negotiated contracts with vendors.
Using FOSS allows for product customization, advances interoperability between tools, and improves the overall quality of the final product. Other benefits include:
- Flexible usage. The benefits of using FOSS compel Skylight to meet user needs by modifying existing or creating new FOSS. FOSS is particularly suitable for rapid prototyping and experimentation. The testing process generates minimal costs, and the process encourages the identification and elimination of defects not recognized by the original development team.
- Community involvement. Publicly available source code enables continuous and broad peer review. Whether simply publishing the completed code or opening the development process, the practice of expanding the review and testing process to a wider audience — beyond the development team — ensures increased software reliability and security. Developing in the open also allows for other opinions to help adjust the direction of a product to maximize its usefulness to the community it serves.
- Cost-savings. The ability to modify FOSS enables Skylight to respond rapidly to changing missions and markets. Support and maintenance of open source code — as opposed to more burdensome usages of proprietary software — provides a real cost advantage where multiple copies of software are required, or when the user base grows. The total cost of ownership is shared with a community, rather than solely Skylight.
- Reusability. The code we create belongs to the public as a part of the public domain. The code we work on may be paid by others, but the end-product isn’t the only way they should be able to interact with their government. By coding in FOSS, we help populate a larger commons that cities, states, businesses, and individuals can participate in. This creates real economic value by lowering the burden of replicating similar work or by allowing the private sector to build off of and create new businesses around code developed at Skylight.
Maximizing community involvement and reuse
Active involvement from the open source community is integral to the success of open source code. Skylight will be an active contributor to FOSS projects that it or its clients utilize.
Code written entirely by Skylight staff will be dedicated to the public domain. In addition, any contracts Skylight enters into, where others will develop software on Skylight’s behalf, will ensure that all results are dedicated to the public domain to the greatest extent practicable. In general, all discussion in this document about the licensing of work of Skylight’s contractors means that Skylight’s will aim to ensure that their contracts guarantee those terms.
Skylight encourages contributions to its open source projects, whether it be code, commentary, bug reports, feature requests, or overall strategic direction.
Forks or clones of our code repositories are free to be re-distributed. This means code created by Skylight can be integrated into work that’s under a more restrictive license, even those that aren’t considered open source licenses.
This changes when our code repositories include code that wasn’t created by Skylight and carries an open license. Code previously released under an open source license and then modified by Skylight or its contractors is considered a “joint work” and must be released under terms permitted by the original open source license.
The public can use our code as the basis of wholly proprietary and commercial systems. Skylight would appreciate that users of our code disclose its lineage, but Skylight maintains no legal right to require disclosure. Notifications that our work is used in a new system are always greatly appreciated.
Open source licenses
As previously mentioned, most work generated at Skylight falls within the public domain.
However, certain projects will require the usage of licensed open source software not created by Skylight. Some open source licenses make source code available under different terms and conditions. These terms and conditions specify how the code may be used, modified, or shared. When users modify Skylight code, they should review and understand the terms of the open source license in question.
Distribution of code
There is a misconception that FOSS that’s distributed to the public should not be integrated or modified for use in sensitive systems. On the contrary, FOSS is often preferred for use in sensitive systems, due in part to its increased auditability. In other words, security in FOSS must be designed never to rely on obscurity in how the code works.
In addition, while open source licenses permit the user to modify FOSS for internal use without obligating them to distribute source code to the public, when the user chooses to distribute the modified FOSS outside the user’s organization, then the code is subject to whatever license it carries.
The only conditions where code shall not be developed and released in the open are:
- Skylight doesn’t have the rights to reproduce and release the item. The public release of the item is restricted by other law or regulation, such as the Export Administration Regulations or the International Traffic in Arms Regulation.
- These decisions will be made as needed by Skylight, which will lead an interdisciplinary team to review the conditions under which code won’t be made available publicly. Any further exemptions will be rare, documented publicly, and the result of compelling interest.
If an existing solution can’t be found in the open source community, Skylight may consider other options, including creating an open source solution itself. Ultimately, the software that best meets the needs and mission of Skylight should be used.
Skylight would like to thank 18F, and their predecessors, for creating the template for this open source policy.
If we decide to change this policy, we’ll update the modification date below.
Updated: April 4, 2017