I've been searching for a software license that seems like it should exist. The fact that I'm not finding it anywhere makes me wonder if it's just not possible.

This page has a pretty good list of licenses (https://choosealicense.com/licenses/) none of which achieve something that seems pretty obviously desirable:

To have a software license where you can share your code, but you don't end up doing free labor for mega-corporations.

I've heard from my non-profit friend that sliding-scale fees can be a bit of a legal hassle... so maybe that's why no such thing exists?

Is it legally possible to have a software license which is in-effect open for individuals and small companies, without being free labor for large corporations?

1 Answer 1


It is possible if and only if you can say exactly what you mean, and what you mean isn't prohibited by law.

Software licenses can have all sorts of conditions attached to them, such as use (commercial or not; educational) or a quasi-demographic (are a student at UX, are employed by Z; reside in Y). "Mega-corporation" is not at all defined, so you would need to specify what it means to be a "mega-corporation" (is it defined in terms of assets, or income, and what is the magic number that is not to be crossed). What do you mean by "corporation"? Your license might not achieve what you intended it to achieve, if you don't think about ways to legally get around the restriction (can a mega-corporation have an employee incorporate your code into a product, as an individual, and then sell the rights to the product to the mega-corporation for $1, or for $1,000,000? If not, what part of the license says you can't). Also bear in mind that a license might be for a fixed period (a nuisance), or perpetual (the usual case), but status as a "mega-corporation" is ever-changing (Microsoft was a garage operation a few years ago; Blockbuster was a mega-corporation a few years ago). Do you want people or companies to lose their license right once they make a certain salary / income?

The license would be discriminatory, but not all forms of discrimination are illegal – I don't think this would actually run afoul of any anti-discrimination laws.

  • Would something like "publicly traded with a market cap greater than 200M" be considered discrimination? If not, would tiered prices (200M, 500M, 1B) be discriminatory? Where can I read more about what income/asset discrimination is prohibited by law?
    – Seph Reed
    Nov 9, 2020 at 20:43
  • Even "NC" is discriminatory, but it is legal discrimination. You could start with en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-discrimination_law for general law, but in the US the only income related laws are about source of income in housing.
    – user6726
    Nov 9, 2020 at 21:37
  • Also what if the mega-corp spins off a fully-owned mini-corp just for this product?
    – user253751
    Nov 10, 2020 at 17:08
  • Yup, that's one of many work-arounds that a user would think of which makes it at least expensive to get someone to write a license that covers all of your "intentions".
    – user6726
    Nov 10, 2020 at 17:53

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