Thinking about new open source licenses

Premise: do not take it too seriously.

I’m passionate about FOSS philosophy, however I recognize that many companies or people do not consider it a valid option when it comes to releasing their code with a copyleft license, as they are intended to earn money from their product. Although some techniques exist to earn money with a copyleft license, often are not enough.
So I started to think if there was a way to guarantee a copyleft license but at the same time sell a product as if it was proprietary.

My idea:
A GPL license with a patent tax on for-profit companies.
Wait, what, how???

Let me explain. Once the software is released through this license, those who use it for personal purposes or for non-profit associations are free to use and modify the software.
If, on the other hand, a company/person wants to use the software for profit, then they will have to pay the developers/companies associated with the product sold.

Who to pay? Who decides how much? By definition of Free-Software there is no owner. One thing at a time.

All this may be possible if there is an external organ that decides everything. It could be a company or an association like the free-Software-Foundation.

The external association will have to estimate the monetary value of the software. How to evaluate it? Based on the cost necessary to recreate similar software with similar features. From this a reasonable “x/year” price will be decided for the product.

Who to pay? This is probably the most difficult aspect to decide.
The buyer will pay the intermediary association, which will take a small part and the rest will be distributed to companies/developers who have contributed to the development and maintenance of the software in the last year. Proportionally to the contributions made.

What about forks and redistribution?
Being a copyleft license, redistribution is possible and encouraged. It will also have to be redistributed under the same license. However, those who redistribute the software cannot sell the aforementioned software to companies for profit. It can only be used for personal use or for non-profit activities.
If, on the other hand, the redistributed software, want to be sold too, must be purchased as it is equivalent to a for-profit company. The money of the buyers will go proportionally to the amount of contributions done to the original product and to the fork.

Let’s see the benefits and drawbacks:

  • Developers can earn money from their product.
  • Developers can benefit from external contributions from the community and an easier diffusion of the software, raising the quality of their work and probably also its security.
  • Companies doesn’t want easy competition because it reduce the profits, but with this system, forks help you earn as they invest in your work. And selling the forks makes the company of the original software earn more.
  • Encourages continuous development, as the last year is evaluated in the salary assessment.
  • Big techs stop stealing other people’s work without making any contribution.
  • The software will continue to be completely free for anyone who has no profit.


  • high implementation difficulties, due to the creation and management of an impartial intermediary association.
  • communities may be resistant to this new model.
  • being free software, avoiding payment for for-profit companies can be particularly easy. (Think of a graphics software or a cad software). But this already happens abundantly with commercial software. It’s just a little more difficult.

I hope to see a flurry of comments explaining why something like that simply can’t work! So, bring it on and challenge my ideas!

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My personal reaction.
I believe you posted your idea at the wrong site.
(Barking up the wrong tree.)

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Who polices whether an organisation declares a profit?.
Remember that profit is income minus costs. It is open to manipulation by clever acountants.
I think what you really meant is income from sales… regardless of costs.
So you are talking about a sales tax on free software.

I dont get it. If the source code is freely available why would anyone pay for it?


That’s a contradiction in terms, plain and simple. If you have a copyleft license, you don’t have any restrictions on how you can use the software, but you have an obligation to make the source available for both the copylefted code and all related code it’s compiled with. That aspect, not a requirement to pay someone, is what companies balk at when it comes to the GPL.1

Or, you can provide your software under a completely unrestricted license, like MIT or BSD. Then, anyone using it isn’t required to make the source available. They’re not obligated or restricted in any way — if they are (and there are plenty of licenses already that try to have it both ways) then it’s not a free license. The OSI has been very explicit on this point (see Licenses – Open Source Initiative).

Plenty of open-source software is dual-licensed GPL and commercial, though, to give users the option to either (a) be bound by the requirements of the GPL, or (b) pay to not take on those obligations. You can’t have a free license that achieves both simultaneously, but you can certainly give users multiple different licensing options.

Qt is the first example that comes to mind; they sell commercial licenses for basically the exact same open-source software that’s also available under (L)GPL licenses.

(There are a few Qt components that aren’t available except with a commercial license (very few), and an equally few others are available only with the GPL-licensed version.)

Any company that doesn’t want to be required to release their own source, but still wants to incorporate some (otherwise-GPL’d) code into their software, will.

…And, beyond that, there are companies that do help to fund the open-source projects whose code they use, even the ones that release under non-copyleft licenses where they’re under no obligation whatsoever. Far too few (and rarely the ones that benefit most — *cough* Amazon), but some do. Some consider it the cost of doing business, helping to keep the project alive so that they continue to have code to exploit. For others, it’s a very public gesture meant to earn goodwill (and free PR) for the company.


  1. (Companies balk at GPL obligations when they foolishly associate the value of their product with the need to keep their “proprietary” code a secret. Smart companies know that businesses, in particular, don’t buy source code; heck, they don’t even really buy software. They buy solutions to the problems faced in operating and growing their business. And you can still sell solutions based on open-source software. Like Qt does, like RedHat does, like Oracle does, like even Microsoft is increasingly realizing they can do. “Saying you can’t compete with free is saying you can’t compete, period.” – Mike Masnick)

Nice summary
I was not aware MIT and BSD had no requirement to release source code.

I guess that people on this website does not like this post, but for this reason I hoped to get some attention

I really appreciate your reply.

Here when I say:

What I really meant was: take the property of a GPL license and modify it to impose a patent tax on for-profit companies. For sure it won’t be GPL compatible at the end. (And probably is still a contradiction)

The problem I see on MIT and BSD licenses is that they do not force companies to release the modified code. This can increase the monopoly (and therefore reducing competition and will to innovate) of some companies that develop owner software and literally exploit the work of others.

The goal that I would like to accomplish are:

  • pay the developers for their work from companies that use their code without giving any contribution or support.
  • freedom to use, change and share software for any purpose
  • benefit the community
  • force the modified code to be open source

Is there any way?

I didn’t know that some software could have double license. Indeed the approach used by QT is probably the one that approaches the most to the model I proposed

Thank you for this article. Very interesting. But I’m not sure if I got it right. I can’t understand why you can’t compete.

If there are two software, one free and one non-free. If the non-free option offers something more, the development of the free option slows down in view of a greater consumption of the non-free option. Or did I get it wrong?

I wouldn’t say that we don’t like the post - we don’t think what you are saying is a good idea. But its not making us think less of you because you said it. It’s important to have discussions like this here. You had an idea, and you shared it and now you are getting some critiques. If you take those and polish this idea, you might end up with an idea some people might want to try.

I think you should just stop talking about the GPL license in regards to this idea. I see what you are going for, but you are saying “Let’s take a license that allows you to use the software however you want and make it so if you are a company you can’t use it however you want unless you pay money”. It IS a contradiction, and it will just confuse people.

Let’s list what you have here, without comparing it to other licenses:

  • Open source
  • If you modify the source, you must release it as well
  • Individuals can use the software for free
  • Companies must pay some kind of royalty for use unless they help pay for development
    • Some kind of organization set up to pay the developers of the software from the royalties
  • Forks cannot be sold, unless they also pay royalties (or something like that)

The hardest part of this is setting up the company that manages the royalties, and they will have to have a significant legal arm in order to prosecute companies that don’t pay the royalties. But how would the company get the funds to do so - it will be very expensive to do this. It would also be very difficult to get this license set up legally, but I don’t know much about that (I am not a lawyer).

I don’t think it will work, and even if it did I don’t think it will be any better than what we have now (including the talk of using two licenses). I specifically am not a fan of the requirement on forks, but I do understand that if you don’t do that then a company (cough cough Amazon) will just fork the software and then pay themselves to use it.

I think that fact that you are trying to find more ways for FOSS software to be supported is good, try to take this idea and see where it takes you.


Maybe the intermediary company could earn a percentage of each transaction to cover their costs. Don’t you think it’s enough? I think the main problem is that the company could be influenced easily. And it’s difficult to define a right amount for the royalties.

Do I think that a small percentage of the royalties will be enough to fight the largest tech companies in the world? The ones that regularly sue each other for fun? No, I dont think it would be enough, I dont think if all the royalties went to it would be enough.

Let’s not even discuss if enough companies don’t pay, you shrink your legal budget. If none of them pay, then you dont have a legal budget.