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What is Code.mil?

Code.mil is an experiment in open source at the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). The goal is to foster open collaboration with the developer community across the world on DoD open source projects.

The Code.mil initiative will iterate in phases.

During the first phase, which launched on February 22, 2017, we called upon the developer community to help finalize our open source strategy for code written by DoD employees. You can read the official press release here.

During the second phase, we finalized the strategy and launched our first open source projects on March 13, 2017. You can read about it here. We also issued a call to the DoD developer community to contact us with projects that may be hosted on Code.mil.

We’re now in a sustaining phase where we are expanding the effort to include projects from other DoD offices, tackling procured source code, and addressing how this strategy might facilitate technology transfer. The hope is that Code.mil will encourage conversation around these topics and allow anyone around the world to contribute knowledge and code for DoD projects.

This initiative is not intended to set DoD policy, but rather is exploring alternate ways to join the open source and free software communities.

Who is behind Code.mil?

The Defense Digital Service (DDS) launched Code.mil on February 22, 2017. Established on November 18, 2015 by the Secretary of Defense, DDS brings in the best private sector talent, technology, and processes to DoD. DDS functions like a SWAT team of nerds working on high impact challenges during one to two year tours of duty as federal employees. DDS is an agency team of the United States Digital Service.

Who has been involved with Code.mil?

DDS has collaborated extensively with organizations in the open source and free software communities, such as the Free Software Foundation (FSF), the Open Source Initiative (OSI), and GitHub. DDS also reached out to open source experts and attorneys across the U.S. Federal government and in the private sector.

How does Code.mil relate to Code.gov?

We launched Code.mil to further the mission of Code.gov within DoD. We are in close collaboration with the team at Code.gov to expand upon government reuse and public access to custom-developed Federal source code. Projects hosted on Code.mil will also be accessible through the Code.gov platform.

Why is DoD doing this?

U.S. military members and their families make significant sacrifices to protect our country. Their lives should not be negatively impacted by outdated tools and software development practices that lag far behind private sector standards.

Modern software is open sourced software. The creative contribution of individual developers to help solve complex problems of impact is largely untapped by DoD. Through this experiment, we are trying to more actively participate in the open source and free software communities. We need your help to build better software products and services for our military members and citizens across the country.

Where can I find other DoD open source projects?

There are many other projects that have already been open sourced. They are located in various places such as GitHub, SourceForge, forge.mil, Google Code, and numerous other web sites. We’re working to inventory and catalog many of these, but you can find some of them using the code-mil topic on GitHub

I am part of DoD or a Military Department and want to have my project hosted on Code.mil. What do I do?

That’s awesome! Please get the conversation going by submitting your information here so we can start talking.

What happened to the draft Defense Open Source Agreement?

The original open source strategy explored an innovative legal pathway of using contract law to attach widely adopted licenses to our projects. This strategy was encapsulated in the draft Defense Open Source Agreement. The developer community energetically responded to our call for comment, and we received a lot of great feedback. Thank you!

Based on the feedback, we updated our strategy to move away from contract law and instead focus on the contribution process. We deleted the draft Defense Open Source Agreement in the LICENSE-agreement.md file. Our updated strategy is now captured in INTENT.md and CONTRIBUTING.md.

We think the updated strategy avoids the complications of using contract law and also the perception that we’re creating a new license. We hope this will keep our practices more consistent with the open source and free software communities. We intend to use widely adopted licenses for our projects when copyright is applicable.

How are you attaching licenses to your projects? Are they just public domain?

Works created by U.S. Federal government employees within the scope of their employment is ineligible for copyright protections in the U.S. and certain foreign jurisdictions. People sometimes say that U.S. law requires Federal government employees to put creative works in the public domain, but that’s not quite right. The U.S. Copyright Act does not explicitly define public domain. What the Act actually does is make works created by U.S. Federal government employees ineligible for copyright protections (17 U.S.C. 105). Public domain is generally understood to refer to creative materials that are not protected by intellectual property laws such as copyright, trademark, or patent laws. Under U.S. laws, Government-created works may be eligible for patent or trademark protections. Not all countries acknowledge the concept of public domain.

The updated strategy in INTENT.md does not attempt to attach licenses to Government-written code. Rather, the strategy attaches the license to copyrighted contributions by using the Developer Certificate of Origin (DCO) process and to Government-written code in countries where that code is eligible for copyright protections.

Good point! We definitely considered this. CC0 1.0 Universal seeks to dedicate copyrighted work to the public domain by waiving the author’s rights to the work worldwide under copyright law. Using CC0 1.0 Universal is one possibility, but not the only one. There are many high quality and widely adopted open source and free software licenses, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. We are not intending to judge the merit of using CC0 1.0 Universal. Rather, we are positing that the project maintainer should have the freedom of choice when it comes to selecting the “best” license for that particular project.

Intelligent minds will differ on the “best” avenue for a U.S. Federal government agency to participate in open source. The reality is that every organization, and every project, has unique circumstances that affect which option might make the most sense. This initiative is not intended to set DoD policy, but rather is exploring alternate ways for joining the open source community.

How are you handling code contributions?

We are using the Developer Certificate of Origin process. The DCO is a legally binding statement asserting that you are the creator of your contribution, or that you otherwise have the authority to distribute the contribution, and that you are intentionally making the contribution available under the license associated with the project. The intent is to use widely adopted open source and free software licenses.

We considered other mechanisms, such as a Contributor Licensing Agreement or copyright assignment, but chose DCO because it reuses the license associated with the project rather than crafting new licensing language; is not administratively burdensome to implement; and is commonly used in the developer community.

What is the liability of a contributor?

Under the DCO, a contribution is submitted under the open source license associated with the project, which will have warranty and liability disclaimers. The licenses we are considering disclaim warranties and provide the code AS IS.

What do I need to know if I fork the project?

What you need to do if you fork the project depends on the status of the project at the time you fork it. Per INTENT.md, the intent is that the project should be treated as if it is licensed under the license associated with the project in the LICENSE.md file. Whether LICENSE.md has actually attached depends on the status of the project at the time you fork it.

Is DoD trying to do something funny here?

No!

We mean to be totally transparent in our intent and purpose with Code.mil. We want to be really clear about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it so that you feel comfortable contributing to DoD projects.

For more information or questions, please contact our team at code@dds.mil. Happy coding!