July 20–24, 2015
Portland, OR

Open source licensing on GitHub by the numbers

Ben Balter (GitHub)
2:30pm–3:10pm Wednesday, 07/22/2015
Solve E145
Average rating: ****.
(4.00, 6 ratings)

Prerequisite Knowledge

No technical or legal background required, although a basic understanding of the basic concepts of open source (e.g, forking) OR intellectual property (e.g, licensing) would help contribute to the discussion.


Open source isn’t open source without an open source license. GitHub has become the de facto hub for creating and sharing open source software, but is that software open source, or simply published?

They say there are two hard things in computer science: cache invalidation and naming things. If there were a third, it’d likely be open source licensing. Creating great software is hard enough. Ensuring others, both large and small, can use what you create is even harder, and all too often feels like it requires a legal degree to navigate.

What percentage of public repositories on GitHub include an open source license? Do efforts like choosealicense.com help? Of those licensed repositories, what’s the relative breakdown? MIT? GPL? Copyleft? Permissive? How has that breakdown changed over time? By language? More importantly, what can we learn about the different effects licenses and licensing have on contribution, reuse, and project evolution? What’s the one true license to rule them all?

Ben Balter and Tal Niv, two of GitHub’s legal eagles, will discuss their recent quantitative analysis across GitHub’s more than 19 million projects, their findings, and what the community can do to support a more vibrant open source licensing culture.

Photo of Ben Balter

Ben Balter


Named one of the top 25 most influential people in government and technology, Fed 50’s Disruptor of the Year, and described by the US Chief Technology Officer as one of “the baddest of the badass innovators,” Ben Balter is the government evangelist at GitHub — the world’s largest software development network — where he leads the efforts to encourage adoption of open source philosophies, making all levels of government better, one repository at a time.

Previously, Ben was a member of the inaugural class of Presidential Innovation Fellows where he served as entrepreneur in residence reimagining the role of technology in brokering the relationship between citizens and government. Before that, he was a Fellow in the Office of the US Chief Information Officer within the Executive Office of the President, where he was instrumental in drafting the President’s Digital Strategy and Open Data Policy, on the SoftWare Automation and Technology (SWAT) Team, the White House’s first and only agile development team. As a New Media Fellow in the Federal Communications Commission’s Office of the Managing Director, he played a central role in shaping the agency’s reimagined web presence. His paper, Towards a More Agile Government, was published in the Public Contract Law Journal, arguing that Federal IT Procurement should be more amenable to modern, agile development methods.

As an attorney passionate about the disruptive potential of technology, Ben holds a J.D. and an M.B.A. from the George Washington University and is a member of the DC Bar. When not trying to change the world, he enjoys tackling otherwise-impossible challenges to sharing information using nothing more than duct tape, version control, and occasionally a pack of bubblegum.