I use quite some "non-commercial" applications when working on software projects. For clarification, I mean developing applications here, for example smartgit, not libraries or anything that gets shipped.

Is it legal to provide a donation button for projects made using the non-commercial of certain applications?

I know, I know, "consult a lawyer". Here's the real world: I'm a 16 year old hobbyist programmer that doesn't have the time nor money to consult one - a quick question on the internet would probably be a better idea.

  • There isn't a commercial limitation to Visual Studio. What exactly is your question?
    – Ramhound
    Oct 28, 2011 at 17:04
  • @Ramhound I'm not sure about Visual Studio, but can the Express versions be used to create commercial/for-profit software? Even if they can, there are other tools and libraries that are released in a manner that prevents them from being used in commercial software.
    – Thomas Owens
    Oct 28, 2011 at 17:08
  • 1
    @ThomasOwens Express versions of VS tools can be used to develop commercial apps.
    – Adam Lear
    Oct 28, 2011 at 17:13
  • Visual Studio was an example for a developing application, not for a non-commercial application.
    – orlp
    Oct 28, 2011 at 17:13
  • @Thomas Owens - Yes Visual Studio Express can be used to develop commerical applications. The author does not mention what he is trying to do exactly, so the answer really depends on that, if we just limit the scope to licenses that prevent their use within commercial applications.
    – Ramhound
    Oct 28, 2011 at 17:14

3 Answers 3


My gut feeling on this says that it is non-commercial software. Donationware is, by definition, complete, working, free (open-source optional) software. Payment is not required to use any features of the system. People aren't paying for the use of the software - they don't have to in order to use all of the features. Instead, they are giving you a gift.

However, I would recommend two things. First, consult a lawyer who knows your local laws. Second, ask the creator(s) of the applications designed for non-commercial use. Either of these would give you answers that you need.

  • 1
    +1 for "just ask the creator of the application". That is by far the most straightforward thing to do.
    – Jeremy
    Oct 28, 2011 at 17:35
  • @Jeremy And it's probably cheaper than consulting a lawyer, too. Worst case scenerio is that they say their whatever can't be used for donationware. Best case is that they say it can. If it can't under its current distribution guidelines, they might even decide that your project is worthy and release it to you under different terms. Who knows.
    – Thomas Owens
    Oct 28, 2011 at 17:37

If the donation button doesn't impact the user experience, one could argue that the software is as non-commercial as it would be without the donation button.

Ultimately you will have to check the laws of your country either way, at least to know how such revenue is treated according to tax law.

  • 1
    Oh, might be relevant: the donation button is not in the application.
    – orlp
    Oct 28, 2011 at 17:47

I am not a lawyer, so take with a grain of salt. But it will depend on the particular license.

With GPL asking for donations is 100% fine.

With smartgit's license for free non-commercial use:

3.2.1 If a SOFTWARE Non-Commercial License is agreed upon with the licensee, the licensor grants the licensee the non-exclusive, non-transferable right, which is terminable according to the terms of clause 5 or permanent, to have the SOFTWARE used on a arbitrary number of single-user computers or on a central server or via terminal server clients, simultaneously by a arbitrary number of users, solely for non-commercial purposes. A purpose is non-commercial only if it is in no manner primarily intended for or directed toward commercial advantage or private monetary compensation.

So smartgit doesn't seem to care if non-commercial use is released under a permissive license or donation ware; they care if you are using it for a commercial advantage (no) or eventual monetary compensation (possibly, you ask for donations that are provided as a thank you for use of your software). If you are a 16 year old kid developing small little apps and expect to get under $500 in donations in a given year; I wouldn't worry about it. Smartgit isn't likely to sue you over using the wrong license; it would be a very difficult case to sell. If you start to make loads of money by donation; or decide to start offering paid support; and smartgit is integral to your development cycle that's another question. The point where smartgit is used part of an enterprise that makes money, then you probably should be paying for the commercial license.

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