Some licenses, like the GPL, mandate that I license derivative works under the same license and not a more restrictive license. I believe this is called "copyleft".

But say I want to have more restrictive terms anyway. Maybe I am Red Hat and I am tired of people downloading the RHEL code they pay me for and then turning around and giving it away for free, like I am required to license them to do.

Can I distribute my derivative work of copyleft software officially under the required license, but in a way where I require people to agree to a restrictive adhesion contract to get a copy? Like "By clicking download or otherwise downloading the software here, you agree to the Terms of Use."

And then the Terms of Use say that, while you have a copyright license to sublicense the software, in consideration for being allowed to use my download server, you also make a promise not to exercise those rights. And that if you break that promise you will pay me for any resultant lost sales revenue. Or whatever other terms I want that I am not allowed to tack onto the copyleft license.

Or is this something that most copyleft licenses contemplate and prohibit licensees from doing?

  • 1
    Are you asking whether you can say: "here, have this software with a very permissive mandatory licence, but only if you agree to restrictions X, Y, Z that the licence prohibits me from imposing."
    – Jen
    Mar 14 at 14:51
  • 2
    @Jen That was my first reaction, as well, but I think the question is actually a bit savvier than that. OP seems to be using exactly the correct license, but then conditioning the use of his server to access the file on a waiver of the rights granted under the license. If users don't like the terms, they can arrange a different means of accessing the file. Like a car dealer saying, "the law says you have the right use your own mechanic without voiding the warranty, but you're only allowed on our lot to shop if you agree to waive that right."
    – bdb484
    Mar 14 at 15:21
  • Is it legal? My guess is no, but it's definitely further into a gray area.
    – bdb484
    Mar 14 at 15:23
  • I'd also recommend rewriting the question to better highlight the distinction.
    – bdb484
    Mar 14 at 15:24
  • @bdb484 Ah, I see that angle now. It could potentially be viewed as a condition on the mode of acquisition.
    – Jen
    Mar 14 at 15:28

4 Answers 4


Quoting from the wikipedia article on the GPL:

The GPL additionally states that a distributor may not impose "further restrictions on the rights granted by the GPL". This forbids activities such as distributing the software under a non-disclosure agreement or contract.

If you make your software available for download that counts pretty clearly as distributing. So no, no extra conditions to not actually honor the licence.


I am not a lawyer, so take this with a grain of salt. However, it is fairly obvious by downloading source code which includes the GPL or other license you agreed to abide by the terms of that license. Therefore, redistributing it under a different license is a violation of the GPL license and possibly copyright (the code is still under copyright) and subject to any laws and punishments associated with that.

  • 1
    Yes. So does that license prohibit forming contracts with people not to do things it permits? Or am I not allowed to agree with you that you will stop sending CDs with my software to my house, because the GPL requires that I not form these restrictive ancillary agreements?
    – interfect
    Mar 14 at 14:48
  • "So does that license prohibit forming contracts with people not to do things it permits? " - Yes, it does.
    – Brian
    Mar 15 at 14:15
  • 1
    @Brian Why do you say that?
    – bdb484
    Mar 16 at 2:26
  • 1
    @bdb484: Because it does. You can't restrict others from exercising the things the license permits. Quoting the license: "Each time you convey a covered work, the recipient automatically receives a license from the original licensors, to run, modify and propagate that work, subject to this License. [...] You may not impose any further restrictions on the exercise of the rights granted or affirmed under this License. "
    – Brian
    Mar 18 at 13:03
  • I'm not sure that that provision overrides all of contract law. I can say all sorts of things about what you may or may not do; saying it doesn't make it true.
    – bdb484
    Mar 18 at 17:09

You have breached the licence and can be sued for copyright violation, and you can't sue anyone who breaches your "terms"

The licence you agreed to is very clear:

All other non-permissive additional terms are considered “further restrictions” within the meaning of section 10. If the Program as you received it, or any part of it, contains a notice stating that it is governed by this License along with a term that is a further restriction, you may remove that term. If a license document contains a further restriction but permits relicensing or conveying under this License, you may add to a covered work material governed by the terms of that license document, provided that the further restriction does not survive such relicensing or conveying.

So, by adding the terms, you stepped outside the licence; that means you have copied a copyrighted work without permission, and the copyright owner can sue you unless you have a fair use/fair dealing defence - which you don't.

And, the terms you are trying to impose are unenforcable because downstream users can rely on the contract you entered with the original creator.

  • 1
    This seems to misunderstand the question. OP isn't asking about changing the terms of the license; he's asking whether he can make a totally separate contract under which offerees agree not to exercise their rights under the license.
    – bdb484
    Mar 16 at 2:25
  • @bdb484 no, I understood the question- the answer addresses it
    – Dale M
    Mar 16 at 2:48

If you are the sole copyright holder or represent all copyright holders you can do what you like. Just be careful not to commit fraud; if I pay you $1000 to get your software with a GPL license you better give me the GPL license.

If you are not the copyright holder then you only have the right to make copies with the GPL license.

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