I have developed a simple application which I want to put release for free but I'm not planning releasing the source code. I want the application to be freely available but I do not want anyone to sell it or reverse engineer it. MIT License looks simple and nice but it also allows anyone to sell it. Is there any license out there suitable for me or should I just modify MIT License?

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    +1 Good question - there are plenty of open source licenses, but as far as I know most freeware still cooks up their own licenses...
    – user7043
    Jan 17, 2011 at 17:22
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    Why don't you want it sold? It's not like it will cut into your revenue, and as long as it's available for free nobody will be able to charge more than a convenience price for it. Jan 17, 2011 at 17:34
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    I think the issue with allowing other people to sell it is that it would let people profit from doing no work and possibly take credit for what he has already done.
    – indyK1ng
    Jan 17, 2011 at 17:59
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    @David - that's a good point. The issue with this is that some people might not be aware that the program is available for free too.
    – Giorgi
    Jan 17, 2011 at 18:26
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    @David: This was the reason Paint.NET changed it's license - people would repackage in a new installer, and then "sell" it as their own work. Some people are scum. Jan 18, 2011 at 5:10

3 Answers 3



The creative commons licenses were not intended for open source software in particular, but can be applicable to software still - and for such purposes. In essence your freeware program would be a work of art that you want to be shared freely. And the -noncommercial tag as well as the -noderivatives rule would match your intent.

This license is the most restrictive of our six main licenses, only allowing others to download your works and share them with others as long as they credit you, but they can’t change them in any way or use them commercially.

  • What if I want to allow someone to use a product commercially, but not sell the product itself? Bison once had a full GPL license (before LGPL was invented) which made it unusable except for writing applications that would themselves be under the GPL - the generated code includes boilerplate that was under the GPL at the time. Selling Bison is different from using Bison to create another commercial product, and the same issue is likely to apply to other software.
    – user8709
    Jan 17, 2011 at 21:15
  • @Steve314: That's not explicited by the CC license. For special cases like that you would need to find a real software license; or even write your own (or use GPL with an exception clause, as some other projects for that use case do).
    – mario
    Jan 17, 2011 at 21:32
  • @mario - I chose a bad example - it's not just about programming utilities. OpenOffice, for example, is used commercially. If I were to release some office software, I'd want to allow it to be used in an office - but not allow it to be resold. IOW, I suspect this is a general problem with software - other creatives wouldn't normally have the same problem, though it's not too hard to think of possible exceptions.
    – user8709
    Jan 17, 2011 at 21:40
  • @Steve314: I see what you mean. And there is always a big super gray area in how you differentiate between "commercial use" and "use in commercial setting". I guess it mostly depends on the application type. For the OP it was strictly about prohibiting to sell his simple freeware app, which the long textual version of the CC license seems to cover ok.
    – mario
    Jan 17, 2011 at 21:59
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    From the Creative Commons website: "Can I use a Creative Commons license for software? We do not recommend it. Creative Commons licenses should not be used for software. We strongly encourage you to use one of the very good software licenses which are already available. We recommend considering licenses made available by the Free Software Foundation or listed at the Open Source Initiative. Unlike our licenses, which do not make mention of source or object code, these existing licenses were designed specifically for use with software."
    – User
    Jan 18, 2011 at 6:10

You want to give it away in binary but no sources, right? that's no Open Source, it's freeware (small 'f') MIT, GPL, CC, and so on are all Open Source licenses, used on source, no binaries.

If it's free but closed, it's still proprietary. Just be sure your download has high visibility and it won't be sold without your consent.


EDIT: [If you don't mind making the source code available on request:] The GPL doesn't explicitly prevent selling the program, but it would require that the seller make the source code available, and tell the buyer that the source code is available. That might be enough to deter any attempts to sell the software. I'm not sure how anyone would be able to hide the fact that the program was also available for free.

An additional benefit of your using the GPL is that if someone else does improve your program and redistribute it, their changes would be available to you.

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    Except that the OP doesn't want to release source code. Of course, if it's GPLed, the OP can distribute just the binary but nobody else can distribute. Jan 17, 2011 at 19:07
  • @David: I missed that part in the question. I'm not sure how the GPL would work if the OP doesn't at least make the source code available on request. Jan 17, 2011 at 19:11
  • I don't think it does, I think that's one of the conditions of GPL. OP could make their own modified licence based on GPL, and remove the part about making source code available, would that be allowed? Jan 17, 2011 at 19:13
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    The copyright holder can distribute freely, regardless of anything else. Anybody can make a new license based on the GPL, as long as all the serial numbers are erased, but one purpose of the GPL is to share source code, so I don't think it would be a good start. Jan 17, 2011 at 19:15

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