The Microsoft Research Shared Source License Agreement (MSR-SSLA) is a odd kind of "Open Source" licenses. FSF considers in "nonfree" as it does not allow commercial use.

I would like to redistribute a derived work. The clauses of relevance to me are (as I understand it):

If the Software includes source code or data, you may create derivative works of such portions of the Software and distribute the modified Software for non-commercial purposes, as provided herein.

It does include data. Thus I may create a derivative work and distribute it. So long and I do so only for non-commercial purposes. This is fine, ass I am doing it for "academic research" purposes, which is included in examples of "non-commercial" given earlier in the license.

That you will not remove any copyright or other notices from the Software.

There were not copyright style notices on the work I received. Thus I am under no obligations from this. However there was a readme. Which did mention the names of the creators and a request to reference a academic paper about the work. Out of good manners (and becuase it is useful), I will link back to the original when I redistribute it, and include such references to the authors and the paper in my own readme.

That if any of the Software is in binary format, you will not attempt to modify such portions of the Software, or to reverse engineer or decompile them, except and only to the extent authorized by applicable law.

The "Software" is not in binary form, thus this does not apply to me. (At the start of the license "Software" is defined to include text files.)

That if you distribute the Software or any derivative works of the Software, you will distribute them under the same terms and conditions as in this license, and you will not grant other rights to the Software or derivative works that are different from those provided by this MSR-SSLA.

This says, the I must distribute my derivative work only under the MSR-SSLA not under any other license (or lack there-of). So in practice this means I must include the license file with all distributed copies of the derived work. Correct? And it curses ensures that all future derivations will be subject to the scary clause 5. That Microsoft will have full rights over any derivations (except patent rights?)

That if you have created derivative works of the Software, and distribute such derivative works, you will cause the modified files to carry prominent notices so that recipients know that they are not receiving the original Software. Such notices must state: (i) that you have changed the Software; and (ii) the date of any changes.

This will be covered in my readme, and on the page where I am redistributing it.

Am I understanding the implications of the license correctly?

  • If it doesn't allow commercial use, then it is not an open source license, also it gives Microsoft full permission to do anything they want with any work you release under this license. Seriously, just don't use the license for anything. Sep 9, 2015 at 10:23
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    The data I have under the license cost thousands of dollars to produce. My work to make the derived data amounts to a few dozen lines of python written in <30 minutes (anyone at microsoft research could write the same python trivially). I do get benefit form releasing my divided data even under awful licenses as it is proper academic conduct leading to repeatable research. And if I don't I am actively worsening the conditions that lead me to produce the derived data in the first place. (These conditions were that people were not using the right data/evaluation methods to assess X) Sep 9, 2015 at 10:33

1 Answer 1


Blanket caveat: I am not a lawyer. More importantly: I'm not your lawyer. This is no legal advice, but my understanding of the license terms.

Other than that "Copyright or other notices" may be broader than you interpret it - the authors in the readme could very well amount to a notice - you interpret this (non open source) license correctly.

Since you indicate you are working with data, it is quite possible the entire license situation is somewhat off. Depending on the jurisdiction and nature of the data (primarily whether the selection of data contains creative elements; a top 10 list does, a phonebook doesn't) you may not need a license at all. In the US, sui generis databases (the uncreative kind) have no copyright or similar protections for example. In the EU, such databases are protected under database right.

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