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I study CS at university and obviously do a lot of programming for my course. I'd like to be able to release my source code to show employers and such, but the university is understandably concerned about plagiarism from students that are given the same or similar tasks in subsequent years.

Is there an open source license that allows for a restriction on academic usage, so I can cover my back legally if a student were to take the code to use in their own assignments?

  • Cover [your] back legally in what sense? Are you concerned about liability for what they do with it, or that you might be responsible if they passed it off as their own, or worried that they might take it and profit from it? Or do you have some other concern? What behaviour are you hoping to prevent? – MadHatter supports Monica Jan 19 '17 at 15:59
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    @MadHatter During our many, many start-of-module talks about (amongst other things) plagiarism, they made it clear that the university policy was that both the broadcaster and the receiver of the plagiarised work would be punished (presumably to dissuade people from sharing with their friends in the assumption that they would shoulder all the risk). Whilst I'm still a student there, I'd like a license that I could argue that by using, I've explicitly done all I can to block someone plagiarising. – Rumps Jan 20 '17 at 0:20
  • @Rumps: Go talk to your advisor. We have no idea what your school's policies look like. – Kevin Jan 20 '17 at 7:10
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While I agree with the two answers posted so far, I would like to add that publicly posting solutions to programming exercises you were assigned as part of your coursework is something that your university could legitimately blame you for.

On the contrary, posting programming projects which are necessarily quite different from student to student, and for which most of the creative ideas came directly from you, is perfectly legitimate.

The distinction is the same as posting the solution to a knowledge test vs sharing the essay you wrote for some class. If some students were to reuse your essay in the future, it couldn't be held against you.

Now of course, you should wait for the end of the semester to post anything. And probably also ask your teachers first.

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You have clarified that your concern is that your university's policy punishes both the creator and the re-user of plagiarised content, and you want an open licence that will prohibit that.

IANAL/IANYL, but I don't think you are going to find one. Copyleft licences generally specify what kind of re-use may lawfully be made of content you so license. But your university's policy has made it clear that there are no lawful kinds of re-use, from a plagiarism standpoint. So if someone were to reuse some of your licensed content, and your university were to take against this, then (from what you've told us) pointing out that when you distributed your content to the whole world, you did so in a manner that made it clear that you weren't allowing them to do something which they were already forbidden to do probably won't help.

If your university's policy makes some kind of explicit exception for content that people were forbidden to re-use, which you have not told us is the case, it might be possible to craft such a licence. But software so conveyed wouldn't be free/open, because the first of the four freedoms of free software is "the freedom to run the program for any purpose". A restriction on academic reuse would violate this.

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The copyright line that appears in almost all open-source licenses covers your back. It establishes that you wrote the code (or claim to have written the code). You don't need to say anything about plagiarism; that's already covered by the university's rules pertaining to academic usage, whether the material be computer software or passages from a book. So feel free to use MIT, BSD, CC0, or whatever license you like.

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Whether or not there is a legal way to do this, you also might consider not open-sourcing the code. If all you want to do is show potential employers, you can also remember that the code is still yours to do what you like with. If you want to show employers, go right ahead! You do not need to open up the source to show them.

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