Is there some kind of software license for a program that I want to have open source (to gain the trust of the user) but that I do not want to be copied, redistributed, or forged, or used under another name, etc ...?

I'm reading about the MIT and GNU GLP licenses but they all allow forging and parallel use even if they require mention of the original.

  • 4
    Software for which source is available is often called "source available" or "available source" and it is not the same as open source. As you will read here and in the licenses you mentioned, open source implies more than a mere disclosure of the source code. See softwareengineering.stackexchange.com/questions/12528/…
    – Brandin
    Sep 8 at 9:31
  • 1
    It may be a misunderstanding to say that these licenses allow "forging." GPL, for example, specifically disallows "misrepresentation of the origin of the material." GPL is also pretty strict and specific about how you must communicate the rights to the end-user, for example. That's why you may have been forced to "click through" a GPL license display when you install and/or use a Free program, for example. Other open source licenses vary in strictness in this regard, but all of them at least require maintaining copyright notices somewhere, even if it's just in the documentation.
    – Brandin
    Sep 8 at 13:46

Copyright always applies - unless the very few exceptions the law defines.

Licenses are uni-lateral "contracts", thus means by authors / creators / programmers / ... to give other people permissions to use or distribute a programme (or other work), under certain conditions which are not automatically granted by the law.

The law defines a few exceptions to the protection of intellectual property, and the details vary a lot between jurisdictions. By the Berne convention, copyright protection ceases after a certain period has passed after the death of the creator. And there usually are certain limits imposed which allow citations or deny copyright protection for trivial works.

Given this, copyright law, of course, applies to all open source licenses - a license cannot superseed the law; it is a statement by the authors to grant users or recipients additional rights. An open-source license is - roughly-speaking - the software equivalent of a sign on your acre of land which reads "free camping, if you don't litter and don't bother others". Open-source means, that the freedoms granted to users include usually

  • The freedom to run the program as you wish, for any purpose (freedom 0).
  • The freedom to study how the program works, and change it so it does your computing as you wish (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
  • The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help others (freedom 2).
  • The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others (freedom 3). By doing this you can give the whole community a chance to benefit from your changes. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

Notably it is NOT the freedom to distribute anything under your name which you did not create; that also includes that changes to content you published under an open-source license (as allowed by freedom 4) must be marked or such versions must at least be clearly marked as modified (and possibly renamed) - yet attribution to your work must be granted. As such "forging" or mis-representation is not allowed with any open-source license.

Also notably, an open-source license intention is NOT to "create trust" with whatever user. It's about enabling people to make their own decision, to apply their own judgement and to not require them to trust anyone.

Now, if you want to require that your work is NOT distributed at all or used whereever without your consent, nor want to allow people to make modification to the sources of your programme, we are not talking of open-source anymore at all - far from it. That's what every proprietary license does. Consult a copyright layer to draft a proprietary license or EULA for you.

As to the "trust issue": you can, of course, make your source code available and impose whatever restrictions you want on its use by your non-open-source license. But unless you allow people to actually build the software from scratch, the "trust issue" is not really resolved either as there is no means for them to verify that you actually provide the source code which corresponds to the binaries you distribute. Debian solves this issue with the reproducable builds.


Copyright applies to the work, even if it's released under an open-source license. Copyright laws are what enable the author of the work to choose to be able to release it under an open-source license. Even if your software is released under an open-source license, someone still holds the copyright to it (or, perhaps, different people to different pieces if you've accepted outside contributions without an agreement in place).

You won't find an open-source license that prevents copying or redistribution. These are some of the fundamental attributes for an open-source license, as defined by the OSI in The Open Source Definition as well as the FSF in their definition of Free Software.

You'll have to find a different license type, other than a free software license or open-source license, if you want to provide the source code to customers or users while limiting what they can do with that source code.

  • Thanks. I thought open source simply meant that it was not encrypted. I had thought of a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) What do you think?
    – John Doe
    Sep 7 at 14:49
  • 1
    @JohnDoe It is probably worth you reading the Open Source Definition. While people may argue a bit around the edges of the definitions, it's a lot more than "you can read the source". Sep 7 at 15:14
  • @ThomasOwens Thank you. Among the existing software licenses, do any of them conform to the fact that even if the code is left unobstructed to demonstrate good faith, its copying, modification and redistribution is not allowed? My code is in javascript and solidity. Thanks
    – John Doe
    Sep 7 at 20:14
  • @JohnDoe I'm not sure. I'm more familiar with open-source licenses. I wouldn't be surprised if something like what you want exists, but I can't think of one off-hand. You may also want to consult a lawyer who specializes in this field, to make sure that the license is likely to stand up should it be challenged. Sep 7 at 20:41

Is there some kind of software license for an open source but copyrighted program?

Yes. All open source licenses. If the program weren't copyrighted, there would be no need for a license in the first place. Also, pretty much all programs are copyrighted, unless the author has been dead for more than 70 years.

Is there some kind of software license for a program that I want to have open source (to gain the trust of the user) but that I do not want to be copied, redistributed, or forged, or used under another name, etc ...?

No. Such a license cannot possibly exist, because it would violate several clauses of the Open Source Definition:

1. Free Redistribution

The license shall not restrict any party from selling or giving away the software as a component of an aggregate software distribution containing programs from several different sources. The license shall not require a royalty or other fee for such sale.

3. Derived Works

The license must allow modifications and derived works, and must allow them to be distributed under the same terms as the license of the original software.

However, one thing that can be prevented, is "forging":

4. Integrity of The Author's Source Code

The license may restrict source-code from being distributed in modified form only if the license allows the distribution of "patch files" with the source code for the purpose of modifying the program at build time. The license must explicitly permit distribution of software built from modified source code. The license may require derived works to carry a different name or version number from the original software.

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