TL;DR: Is there a license for derivatives but not copies?

I'm fine with my work being modified (and those modified versions being redistributed), but I don't want the base thing just stolen and re-uploaded by someone lazier than me but with more reach.

Is there a standard license for this, or should I contact a lawyer to draft a custom one?

  • @NateEldredge There won't be good answers on Open Source because what OP is looking for would not be an Open Source license.
    – amon
    Feb 27, 2022 at 7:00
  • Not quite an answer but relevant: People who steal open source software and sell it for money do not care about licenses, and the companies who facilitate their sales (ebay, amazon) do not care about your license either.
    – Peter
    Feb 27, 2022 at 9:39
  • Will you have a precise definition of "modified"? If someone changes one variable name, or one word in a comment, would you want to allow them to redistribute this minimally modified version? Feb 27, 2022 at 14:38
  • If I fix 1 minor bug, is my new version which contains that 1 bugfix now OK to redistribute? And if 1 bug is not enough to make it OK to redistribute, what if I fix 100 bugs, then? What if I add several new useful features, as well? It seems that the cutoff point of what counts as being "lazy" and what counts as genuine effort would be hard to define in general terms in a general license. Maybe the best solution is for you to ask interested parties to contact you directly for a license, and you will grant it on a case-by-case basis.
    – Brandin
    Feb 28, 2022 at 10:29
  • @Brandin Seems like the best option, thank you.
    – Corsaka
    Mar 1, 2022 at 3:33

1 Answer 1


No Open Source or "Free" license (in the sense that the FSF uses the term "free") would act in the way that the question describes. Nor does any permissive license that I am aware of.

A license as described could be created, perhaps by starting with na permissive license and modifying it. But to do what the OP seems to want, it would need to have some concept of "significant modification" or else a thoroughly trivial might well permit distribution. Is the OP really OK with changing one character in one variable name, or adding one line of code being enough for redistribution? If not, the OP needs to consider how much change is required, and why.

If someone takes the work published by the OP and redistributes it, leaving the OP's name on the copyright notice and in other places totally intact, and in no way claiming to have created the work, and not charging for it, is that something the OP truly thinks of as "stealing" the work? All or almost all permissive and open source licenses require proper attribution to be maintained unless the author waives this. Some forbid commercial use. Wuld such a license satisfy the OP's wishes?

As some comments point out, only the law-abiding are much troubled by the terms of a license. If someone is willing to "steal", that person might well be willing to violate license terms. The practical consequence is a possible suit for copyright infringement, which may not seem like much of a risk, given the upfront costs involved, and the perhaps small damages likely for a work of limited commercial value.

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