I've been researching licenses for a few days for a software project I've been working on that I'd like to add a license to.

I'm looking for a fairly restrictive software license that allows access to the source code, although you could only read it, really. Something like the Creative Commons BY-NC-ND v4.0 license would be perfect, but CC is not for software.

Here's what I'm looking for in a pre-written license:

  • End user is free to share and redistribute the source code (and/or binaries)

Under the following conditions:

  • End user must provide appropriate attribution, and a link to the license (in any reasonable manner, so long as it does not suggest I endorse their use).
  • End user must not use the software for commercial purposes.
  • End user must not share or redistribute the software (source or binary) if they modify the source.

Please post a comment if you need any more info.

  • 2
    Your ban on commercial use and on modification means that your license won't meet the Open Source Definition. If that is ok with you, please edit your question to say so. opensource.org/osd-annotated
    – dcorking
    Jan 31, 2015 at 11:30
  • How do you define "commercial purposes"? That's a very fuzzy definition.
    – Philipp
    Jan 31, 2015 at 11:41
  • I can't think of a widely-used license (you might wish to call it a 'shared source' license as it is not open source) that meets your other requirements :(
    – dcorking
    Jan 31, 2015 at 11:44
  • Also, your conditions 1 and 3 seem to contradict each other. Why do I need to inform the user if changes were made when I am not allowed to make any modifications?
    – Philipp
    Jan 31, 2015 at 12:16
  • I've written something about why a "non-commercial" clause is often much more problematic than expected in this answer.
    – Philipp
    Jan 31, 2015 at 12:20

2 Answers 2


There is no such open source license. In fact, there cannot possibly be such an open source license, since your terms violate several of the fundamental principles of open source, and thus any license which includes your terms is by definition not an open source license.

In particular, your proposed terms violate clauses 3 and 6 of the Open Source Definition:

3. Derived Works

The license must allow modifications and derived works, and must allow them to be distributed under the same terms as the license of the original software.

Rationale: The mere ability to read source isn't enough to support independent peer review and rapid evolutionary selection. For rapid evolution to happen, people need to be able to experiment with and redistribute modifications.

6. No Discrimination Against Fields of Endeavor

The license must not restrict anyone from making use of the program in a specific field of endeavor. For example, it may not restrict the program from being used in a business, or from being used for genetic research.

Rationale: The major intention of this clause is to prohibit license traps that prevent open source from being used commercially. We want commercial users to join our community, not feel excluded from it.

It also violates freedoms 0 and 3 of the Free Software Definition:

  • The freedom to run the program as you wish, for any purpose (freedom 0).
  • The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others (freedom 3). By doing this you can give the whole community a chance to benefit from your changes. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

In short: what you are asking for is impossible. You can't find such an open source license, nor can you write one yourself, since your terms are fundamentally incompatible with the very foundations of open source.

  • Thank you for your in-depth response! This really helps clear a lot of things up.
    – account3r2
    Jan 31, 2015 at 19:31

It's going to be awfully hard to enforce :)

However, what you have written would seem to me to be a perfectly good thing to put into a license conditions file and/or something prominent where your s/w can be downloaded.

In the end what it comes down to is:

  • Do you want to be simple and clear (which you have done) and POSSIBLY have something slip through the net?

  • Or do you want to come over all lawyer-ish, and spend ages trying to find something and/or polish what you have with lots of legalese and additional clauses which probably adds little value (esp. seeing as you have little chance of enforcement).

Re enforcement: The most you would ever realistically be able to do would be a name-and-shame, and even that's unlikely to be very effective.

  • I totally get what you mean about not realistically being able to do much. I think I'll either use what I've posted (modified slightly), or if I feel insane, maybe even rewrite parts of the Creative Commons license to fit my needs (Oh God... Probably won't be doing that). Thanks for your response!
    – account3r2
    Jan 31, 2015 at 7:51
  • @account3r2: I would advise against writing your own license without consulting a lawyer. Copyright licenses are legal documents and you might introduce accidental loopholes if you are not well versed in writing legal documents. Jan 31, 2015 at 11:35

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.