Finding The License

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Finding the license


Student will review several pieces of software and find the licensing information.


An introduction to intellectual property as it relates to software and to open source licenses.

After successfully completing this activity, the learner should be able to:

Find license information (in any of the places it might be located in a package).

Process Skills


This activity demonstrates that licensing information for a given piece of software can be found in a number of different places and gives students the experience of finding the license information for several actual projects/products. This is important because students need to know the license for any piece of code that they are working with *and* there is no *rule* saying where a license must be put (although there are some conventions that are followed).

Before attempting this activity, students need to understand the basic

  1. legal framework for open source and
  2. types of open source licenses.

For a more in-depth look at whether licenses are contracts or "bare licenses" from a legal perspective, see [ Chapter 4, Rosen Law Open Source Licensing Software Freedom and Intellectual Property Law]


This exercise can be done individually or in small groups. The goal is to identify which license applies to each of several pieces of software and where that license information is found (which varies). I've provided some examples, when demonstrate a variety of different license locations and types.

In each case, the student(s) should

  1. Find the site or software
  2. Locate the license information
  3. Record where the license information was found (for example, the URL of the page)
  4. Record which license(s) apply for each piece of software

Here are some good examples

  2. Wordpress
  4. Firefox
  5. | The Linux Kernel
  6. Instagram API
    1. Bonus Activity: Identify the page and paragraph in which Instagram identifies what rights it has to your photos.

If possible, a classroom roundtable, discussing what licenses were found, where they were located, and how they were named would be a good wrap-up for this exercise.


Students should turn in their findings -- I've provided an example format here.

Software License Where Found (URL or other location)
Apache OpenOffice 4 Apache License, Version 2.0, January 2004 Under the "Open Office" menu, I chose "About Open Office". That dialog had a License button, which is where I found the full text of the license.


Students can be graded on the completeness and correctness of the responses provided in the assigned work they turn in, as well as participation in the resulting discussion, should you choose to have one.

Criteria Level 1 (fail) Level 2 (pass) Level 3 (good) Level 4 (exceptional)
Finding the open source license 0-2 correct answers 2-4 answers correct, with correct locations reasoning (or more answers correct, but without correct locations) 4-5 answers correct, with correct locations All answers correct, with with correct locations.

Rather than providing YARFD (Yet Another Rubric For Discussions), I'll give you this link: where I found several. :-)


  • The interesting thing to me about this activity is that there is no single, legal "required" location for the license information, nor any text that it must include. This can make it challenging to find the license info for a project (but doesn't reduce the importance of doing so!).
  • If you are working with an open source project, you should first locate the license for that project and use it as a jumping off point.

Additional Information

Area & Unit(s)

SP Intellectual Property


Intellectual property rights



Estimated Time
to Complete

Each license should take ~10-15 minutes to find, so the length of the activity can be changed based on the amount of time available.

Environment /

Internet access, editor or other tool for examining code


Gina Likins




This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

CC license.png

Suggestions for the Open Source Project

It would be great if your project had information explaining why the project is licensed the way it is. If that information is available and you're willing to discuss it with students, that would make a really interesting (short) Skype or IRC chat.

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