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I have my own company, and I would like to release our customer management system as open source so everybody can see what we do.

But it is very important to me that I don't want anyone else to use or modify the software.

My idea is to modify the MIT license, because it is simple to understand.
But I am not sure about modifying a license as I'm not a lawyer.

Is there a license that fits my needs? Specifically, I want people to be able to see our system but not be able to use or modify it.

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  • If you only want to inform your customers what you do with their data, I'd suggest you let them audit your code instead of releasing it as open source.Not that I'm against it or anything, but its harder to try and build your system from scratch than to fork your online repo and rename every variable they can find then sell it. the risk is too high
    – Maru
    Oct 23 '14 at 12:13
  • @Maru do you mean that if a customer would like to see the code I would allow them or how? :)
    – Knerd
    Oct 23 '14 at 12:14
  • you have two ways in my opinion to go about this... 1) get a third party under NDA to audit your software then have them certify to your customers that your system is doing what you say it is doing... or 2) have your customers get their own auditor to look into your code(of course have them under NDA too so they don't spill the sauce anywhere)
    – Maru
    Oct 23 '14 at 12:18
  • You are wrong in being against modifications; they usually will be improvements. What matters next is what you can do with them (and if you get them). Hence the GPLv3 license. Oct 23 '14 at 19:19
  • Why would you let people download your software but not use it?
    – user22815
    Oct 24 '14 at 19:53
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First of all, what you plan does not satisfy the OSI definition of Open Source. Some people are quite touchy about that, so I recommend not using the label Open Source anywhere.

Unfortunately I don't know any accepted term for licenses that make the source code available but are too restrictive to be considered Open Source. Microsoft calls this their Shared Source program, but I haven't seen that term in other contexts.

I wouldn't start with a permissive license like MIT, since the spirit of what you want to achieve is pretty far from MIT.


The Microsoft Reference Source License looks pretty similar to what you want.

The relevant clauses are:

"Reference use" means use of the software within your company as a reference, in read only form, for the sole purposes of debugging your products, maintaining your products, or enhancing the interoperability of your products with the software, and specifically excludes the right to distribute the software outside of your company.

Copyright Grant- Subject to the terms of this license, the Licensor grants you a non-transferable, non-exclusive, worldwide, royalty-free copyright license to reproduce the software for reference use.

I'm not sure if the license itself is protected by copyright, so you might not be able to simply use it.

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  • Sounds good to me. I need to ask my co-founder what he thinks. The idea with shared source is very good.
    – Knerd
    Oct 23 '14 at 12:16
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Since the purpose of this license you seek is to assure your customers that your software is doing what you say it does, you don't really need to put your source code out as open source.

It doesn't take a genius to fork your code then rebrand it(even if you say in the license they're not supposed to do that, and trust me, its hard to litigate against foreign entities) so going open source might actually come back to bite you.

What you could do in my opinion though, is to have your source code audited, by a third party or by a group selected by your customers(just be sure to put the auditors under NDA so they don't spill the source code or they can be held legally liable for it), so that they can be assured that your code does what its supposed to do. Besides, you can even put this out as an extra bonus for your sales pitch. "We have our source code thoroughly audited by third parties at least once a year to assure you, our customers, that we are doing our best to take care of your data"

something like that.

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  • Good idea, but I think I will first stick with a shared source license and then we will see :)
    – Knerd
    Oct 23 '14 at 12:29
  • 1
    sure :D just putting it on the table. better know the options available
    – Maru
    Oct 23 '14 at 12:30

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