There are several free/open-source licenses (e.g. GPLv3, Apache 2.0, MIT) that allow several freedoms to the user of a software.

Generally if you grant access to an individual to use software under one of these licenses, you essentially grant the entire world access to that software under that license, because these licenses permit re-distribution of the software under the same terms by the licensee.

I wanted to know if there also exist standard software licenses which retain most freedoms of such software licenses (freedom to use the software for commercial purpose, patent grants, freedom to modify the code (and in some cases freedom to distribute modified code under a different license)), but with the re-distribution restricted.

The purpose of such a license would be to give the copyright owner the exclusive power of allowing/disallowing use of the software to a licensee. Or are licenses not the correct legal tool for enforcing this?

  • 1
    Such licenses are possible – but that wouldn't be open source software. For such proprietary software EULAs, it's common to pay your own lawyer to draft you a license that only grants those rights you want to grant.
    – amon
    Commented May 10, 2021 at 15:00
  • Does this answer your question? License for a software project - free for individual users, pay for companies? Commented May 10, 2021 at 15:14
  • The linked question is somewhat related but is significantly different, and this should not be closed as a duplicate. Commented May 10, 2021 at 15:20

1 Answer 1


A license would be a suitable tool for granting specific usage rights while restricting others. However, none of the standard open source licenses will serve the purpose described in the question, because this is not an open source situation, as the comment by Amon points out. The essence of an open-source license is permission to redistribute.

A typical commercial license for proprietary software permits the user to use (tun) the software, including for commercial purposes, and warrants that it is free of patent conflicts. Such licenses typically do not permit redistribution of the software, nor of modified versions. They also purport in many cases to prohibit any modification, but it is at least arguable that under US law, a modification for the user's own benefit with no intent to redistribute is a fair use and cannot be prohibited.

In any case, a license which permits modification and distribution of modified code subject to particular restrictions could be written, but no widely published license that I know of will have this effect. A custom license would need to be created, and it would be wise to carefully decide just what rights one wants to convey, and what restrictions one wants to apply, before trying to devise language to implement those decisions. An IP lawyer could help in drafting language, but might not be needed, depending on the situation. In particular, a developer would need to determine just what restrictions are to apply to the distributions of modified versions of the software. Some concepts and even language from open source licenses could perhaps be reused, but only with significant changes.

  • Thanks for the answer. This gives me a clearer picture of the situation. Few more benefits of standard licenses are that they are commonly understood, and that even if the legal language is "watertight" they may have been battle-tested against circumventions. (Though as you point out, the second could still be achieved by a lawyer who has perhaps seen many of these). I'll leave the question open for a while to see if any information turns up about any "commonly known" licenses (though it's looking unlikely). Commented May 10, 2021 at 15:27
  • @Peeyush Kushwaha If you find the answer helpful, you can upvote it without accepting it as the "best" answer. Or you can also accept and later change that acceptance if a better one cones along. But some guidance advises not accpting for a day or so if one hopoes for a later better answer. Commented May 10, 2021 at 15:36
  • Note that licenses themselves are protected by copyright, so you can't just modify or use parts of an existing license without permission of the copyright holder. And for example the creators of the GPL 3 license do NOT want any licenses that could be confused with theirs and are subtly different.
    – gnasher729
    Commented May 11, 2021 at 11:07
  • 1
    While the exact wording of a license may be protected by copyright, the detailed legal concepts that it uses are not, and it would not be hard to create a modified version in sufficiently different words that there is no copyright infringement. The names of licenses may be protected as trademarks, however. Commented May 11, 2021 at 14:03

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .