I would like to sell a software that has some open source competitors. Therefore I would like to include the source code with the binaries so that the company buying it can modify it as it wishes. The only catch is that the source code will NOT belong to the company, in other words, I would like to maintain the copyright and ownership over the code so I can sell to other companies, etc.

Is there a license name for this kind of model? The buyer can see the code, modify it for its needs, but it cannot take ownership over the code, in other words, it is licensed for a particular use/need and he cannot give or show the code to anyone else.

Buyers are more likely to be companies in that model, in other words, they will be able to take control of the product by modifying the source code, but they will not be able to take ownership of the original code or do anything with it besides the initial purpose they bought it for. It is still closed source. Only the companies that buy the product are entitled to see and modify the code but never to distribute it.

  • 5
    In the past, this was often called a 'source license' - though I think that terminology has been more-or-less abandoned - and is common/standard when licensing things like graphics/game engines. Feb 7, 2013 at 19:52
  • For the first decade of its life, AT&T distributed Unix under exactly these terms. I've seen other 'enterprise' software handled this way as well. I doubt there's a standard open license for it, however. As always, best to talk to the lawyers. Feb 7, 2013 at 22:11
  • Once you publish the source code to your product, while you can say its against the license to share the source code to their modifications, you can't exactly prevent it.
    – Ramhound
    Feb 8, 2013 at 12:08
  • With commercial software the answer is always talk to a lawyer and charge enough for the software to pay for that talk.
    – Craig
    Feb 8, 2013 at 16:59

2 Answers 2


Like most of us here, I am not a lawyer, and questions of law are better suited for lawyers than programmers.

But what you are describing sounds like a fairly common non-exclusive, non-transferable, non-redistributable license.

"Non-exclusive" indicating that you are or may be licensing the same code to other customers. "Non-transferable" indicating that they can't sell their license to someone else. "Non-redistributable" indicating that they can't distribute your code in any fashion.

A quick Google came across this license from Intel. It's actually more liberal than what you're describing in that it allows the licensee to use the code in their own products and distribute them, as long as they are distributed in executable form only, which you probably don't want to allow. But the main thrust of it is very clear: you can use our source code, you can't give it to anyone else.

  • the licence from Intel is not available on their website anymore.
    – mkhoshpour
    Jan 12, 2018 at 7:22

I am not a lawyer, and I would always recommend discussing changes to licences with one.

With that out of the way:

The buyer could never under any copyright scheme take ownership of the code. Even lenient licenses like Apache 2.0 and GPL both keep the ownership of the code to the original copyright holder.

So you don't have to worry about ownership, instead you are worried about showing the source code and the license that applies to the modified forms of the code that they create.

I don't know offhand how licenses can control sharing of source code. You can say that you cannot redistribute, but I don't know offhand the distinctions in that verbiage between binaries and source.

Assuming you already have a license that sufficiently restricts their use of the original form, that same can apply to all of the derived forms as well. So they don't gain or lose any rights in modified forms from a licensing standpoint.

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