EveryBlock, MSNBC.com and the General Public License

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By now everyone has heard the news: EveryBlock is now part of MSNBC.com . And anyone familiar with the Knight News Challenge knows about Knight’s open source requirement: projects developed with Knight funding must be released under an open source license — it is one of the terms of funding. EveryBlock released their source code a few months ago, but Biella Coleman posed an excellent question

Since the code is under a GPL3, doesn’t MSNBC.com have to also keep it under the same license if modified? Or can they take the code base since Everyblock is a web-based service?

We at Gotham Gazette had been wondering just about the same thing, albeit for different reasons. We’re working on our final Knight-funded game and the programmer we’re working with thinks the GPL is too restrictive which got us wondering what it would look like to release source code according to the terms of our agreement with Knight but also allow our programmer (who’s hardly getting rich off of this development project) to use the code under a different, less viral license.

And, James Vasile at Hacker Visions has an answer. It is a complex answer, and worth a read. Loosely? The holder of the copyright is not necessarily bound by the license a project was released under. Discuss EveryBlock, MSNBC.com and the General Public License on PBS’s IdeaLab.

Note: This piece originally appeared on the DocumentCloud blog. It was migrated over to MuckRock’s news archives during the DocumentCloud relaunch for historical and documentation purposes.