ISCB Statement on Bioinformatics Software Availability (This statement has been revised. Please click here for current statement.)
Conditions of bioinformatics software availability are extremely important to the field of bioinformatics. The ISCB, a professional society of 1300 bioinformatics scientists, has discerned significant confusion in recent months regarding the topic of software availability, and is disseminating this statement to clarify several issues regarding software availability, and to make recommendations on software availability policies for government agencies that fund bioinformatics research.
- The term “open source” has taken on many different meanings. This term creates confusion in discussions of software availability; therefore the term should be carefully qualified to indicate which variation of the open-source model is intended.
- Government agencies that fund bioinformatics research should NOT REQUIRE that software produced with government research funds must be distributed under open-source license (particularly given the ambiguity in the meaning of that term). Because of the complexity inherent in software, no single distribution model is appropriate for all research projects. Government agencies should require clear statements of software availability in grant proposals.
- As reviewers of bioinformatics grant applications, ISCB scientists have noted that these applications often contain confusing or unclear statements regarding the availability of software that will be developed under government grant funds. This statement contains several definitions of software availability that ISCB recommends for use in bioinformatics grant applications. ISCB recommends one of those definitions as a minimal requirement of software availability that funding agencies should require.
III. ISCB Levels of Software Availability
The International Society for Computational Biology (ISCB) provides the following definitions of software availability. It is ISCB’s intent that these definitions be a standard reference. It is recommended that all software availability be defined in these terms (or specific stated variations thereof) and stated in all publications, grant applications, and other documents that describe software availability.
ISCB recommends that government funding agencies that support bioinformatics research, require a minimum of ISCB Level 0 Availability.
The levels of availability listed here are not meant to be exhaustive. Researchers may want to define variations to these levels, but ISCB strongly suggests that at least Level 0f Availability be maintained.
For all levels of availability, the licensee must clearly acknowledge the contributions of the author(s) of the original software in all redistributions.
ISCB Level 0 Availability:
a. For Research Use: The software will be available free of charge, in binary form, on an “as is” basis for research purposes to educational institutions, non-profit research institutes, government research laboratories, and individuals, for non-exclusive use, without the right of the licensee to further redistribute the software.
b. For Commercial Use: The software will be available in binary form, on an “as is” basis to commercial institutions, possibly for a fee, for non-exclusive use, without the right of the licensee to redistribute the software.
ISCB Level 1 Availability (“No fee”):
The software will be available free of charge to all institutions, in binary form, on an “as is basis”, for non-exclusive use, without the right of the licensee to further redistribute the software.
ISCB Level 2 Availability (“No fee, source code for research use”):
Same as ISCB Level 1; in addition, source code is available for research use to educational institutions, non-profit research institutes, government research laboratories, and individuals, without the right to redistribute the source code.
ISCB Level 3 Availability (“No fee, source code to all”):
Same as ISCB Level 1; in addition, source code is available to commercial institutions.
ISCB Level 4 Availability (“No fee, unlimited redistribution, with source code”):
The software will be available free of charge to all institutions and individuals, in binary and source-code forms, on an “as is” basis, for non-exclusive use. The licensee may redistribute and/or resell the original software including the source code, and may redistribute and/or resell any modifications or derivative works created by the licensee. The licensee must clearly acknowledge the contributions of the author(s) of the original software in all redistributions.
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