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I am planning on making a service that uses a modified open source software. Would it be legal for me to profit from it? I am not sure what information would be relevant to this so if I have missed some relevant info, please tell me what additional information is required to determine this.

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    "Open source" can refer to any of a number of different licenses. Most of them would allow this but some might not. Which license applies to the software in question? (It's often in a file named LICENSE or COPYING). You may be able to answer your question for yourself by reading the license. Commented Aug 25, 2016 at 8:29
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    @NateEldredge Any license that conforms to the Open Source Definition allows commercial use.
    – Zizouz212
    Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 18:36
  • Are you planning on distributing the software, or just using it internally, e.g. to power a web site? This makes a big difference in most open source licenses.
    – Barmar
    Commented Jun 13, 2023 at 21:11

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You are allowed to sell open source software for any amount you like. You are allowed to charge reasonable cost for supplying the source code. You are not allowed to charge anything for the license. And of course modified open source software may only distributed with an open source license.

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    "Modified open source software may only be distributed with an open source license" - that's true of a GPL-like license. It is emphatically not true of MIT-like licenses. Commented Aug 16, 2018 at 10:27
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    This is plain wrong.
    – Nobody
    Commented Nov 29, 2019 at 21:52
  • This is dangerously incorrect. Open source software made available under CC BY-NC 3.0 may not be sold by the licensee, and doing so may open you to a lawsuit.
    – rytan451
    Commented Jun 12, 2023 at 8:54
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Generally yes. The concept of 'free software' is almost identical Open Source, and one of the four fundamental freedoms is the freedom to run the software for any purpose. That includes seeking profit.

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Yes, you can use open source software commercially. The Open Source Initiative (OSI) says:

Can Open Source software be used for commercial purposes?

Absolutely. All Open Source software can be used for commercial purpose; the Open Source Definition guarantees this. You can even sell Open Source software.

However, note that commercial is not the same as proprietary. If you receive software under an Open Source license, you can always use that software for commercial purposes, but that doesn't always mean you can place further restrictions on people who receive the software from you. In particular, copyleft-style Open Source licenses require that, in at least some cases, when you distribute the software, you must do so under the same license you received it under.

When using code from a copyleft license, the question then becomes whether you need to share your derivative source code. This depends on which copyleft license was used and what your program is doing with the code, as some licenses have what is known as the SaaS loophole which would allow you to use copyleft code server side without needing to release your code.

See also OSI’s list of open source licenses.

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It depends on what license you obtained the open source software under.

Some open source licenses require you to not use the software for commercial purposes. For example, the CC BY-NC 3.0 license requires that you do not use the software (including derivatives) for commercial purposes.

Some open source licenses, on the other hand, explicitly permit the software to be used for commercial purposes, with some requirements. For example, the MIT license explicitly permits the sale of the software.

Some open source licenses, such as the GPL, have requirements that make it very difficult to sell the software directly (for example, because anyone who obtains a copy of it gains the legal right to redistribute it to anyone for no cost), but it is permitted under the license to sell derivative programs, with certain restrictions (for example, the GPL requires you also make the source code available, and if you edited the source code, the GPL requires that you indicate such, and make the edited source code available).

In order to determine whether you are permitted to profit by providing a service using a modified open source software, you should read the license under which you obtained the software. It is also prudent to get the aid of a lawyer so as to make sure you don't misunderstand the license.

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  • In the case of GPL software, what people usually sell are services related to the software: Packaging (e.g. Linux distros), support contracts, and training.
    – Barmar
    Commented Jun 13, 2023 at 21:10
  • It can under certain very specific market conditions be possible to economically sell GPL software. One example of this is Ardour, where the combination of small market size, and relatively non-technical market means they are able to charge for builds, and no one has tried to organize a redistribution of those builds. Commented Jun 26, 2023 at 16:50

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