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13 June 2014
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Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some frequently asked questions and answers to the BBC and its open source policy

Q. Why is the BBC releasing some of its software as open source?

A. Open source software can be a great way of putting new tools in the hands of our audience. Ultimately, too, our software development is funded by the UK public - we want to do whatever gives them the best value from their television licence fee. Open source projects give the software directly back to those who've funded it. In some cases, the BBC is contributing back to an open source community that has helped it save money. Sometimes it's the best way of working together to develop a piece of software that benefits everybody.

Q. Why don't you just sell your software and use the money to fund programmes?

A. Sometimes we do. But sometimes we need help to produce a product, and the open source community can offer help. Sometimes there isn't a commercial market. Sometimes (as in the case of Dirac) we can't do what we want to do unless the software is open source, because we want to put a tool into the hands of everyone.

Q. Why doesn't the BBC release every piece of software it writes as open source?

A. Sometimes we can get better value for the licence-payer by selling the software to other organisations. Sometimes it makes the most sense to keep the software for internal use to improve our programmes and other services. And sometimes the effort required to tidy-up and document the software for release can be too much, especially if the value of the software to the open source community is not great. Again, ultimately we try to do whatever gives the public the best value for their money.

Q. Are there any limits on what I can do with open source software from the BBC?

A. The exact details of what you can and can't do are given in the licence that accompanies the software. In general, an open source licence grants you free access to to use and modify and distribute the software but you need to read the open source licence that applies to make sure you can comply. Software licensed under the General Public License (GPL) is subject to additional restrictions: essentially, if you incorporate GPL-licensed code into your own project, that project must itself be released under the terms of the GPL if you release it at all. Some project licences permit commercial use of the code, others don't.

Q. Can I help?

A. Some projects are still in development and welcome participation from people who want to help. Others have now finished, and while we hope that you'll find the resulting code useful, we have no plans to keep maintaining and improving the software. Because the software is open source, however, there is nothing stopping you from taking the code and starting your own project based on it, which you use yourself or release subject to the project licence conditions. Please see the individual project pages for details, and feel free to contact the project maintainer's email address if you have further questions.

Q. What Licences does the BBC use?

Please see the Licensing page for an up to date view of this.

Q. What languages do you use?

The BBC doesn't have a policy on particular programming languages. The languages used in the open source projects listed here include C, C++, Python, Java and Perl.

Q.Queries about Licences

If you are unsure about what you can do with the open source software, please refer to the help page of the licensing agreement(s). Linked from the licensing page

Q. Why are the majority of the projects hosted on the Sourceforge site?

Sourceforge is a large repository of open sourced work, and it was felt that this was the best place to bring our open sourced projects to the attention of the open source community. Other repositories have been used such as CPAN (Comprehensive Perl Archive Network), but in this case projects not done in perl would not be appropriate to host here.

Secondly, the BBC has been Open Sourcing code long before there was anywhere to advertise this work on the BBC site, and as sourceforge is there.

Part of the reason for this site was to bring together from disparate sites those projects started by the BBC.

Q. Why do you keep switching between the British English spelling of licence and the American spelling, license?

The BBC is a British corporation and "licence" is the correct spelling in its native language. However, the name of the licences, written in most cases in America, feature the American spelling of the word, license. As part of the title of the official licensing document it was thought inappropriate to alter the spelling.

In British English, license is the verb, licence is the noun and licensee is the person who is granted a Licence.

 

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