Many licenses seem to say you can do whatever you want but must include the source with the binary (or credit if you're using MIT)

There's two cases that come to mind.

  1. Firmware/software on hardware. I hear GPLv3 is designed for this case but I don't know what else
  2. Running code on their own hardware as a SAAS? I may be interacting with it via the web but it doesn't seem licenses force them to show their code since they're not distributing the binary?

What licenses may I use to say you can't use my code to power your marketplace/hardware unless you open source your marketplace/firmware?

2 Answers 2


What licenses may I use to say you can't use my code to power your marketplace/hardware unless you open source your marketplace/firmware?

If you want derived works to remain open-source, then you need to use a copyleft open-source license. The main relevant characteristic of a copyleft license is that the license has a requirement that derived works must use the same license.

Copyleft licenses come in different flavors:

  • Weak copyleft (e.g. LGPL): In these licenses, there is a restriction to which parts of a project the copyleft requirements apply. That could be file-based or that you can link a copyleft library still to a closed-source application.
  • Strong copyleft (e.g. GPL): In these licenses, the copyleft part extends to the entire product. The produch as a whole needs to bew under the copyleft license.
  • Internet-aware strong copyleft (e.g. AGPL): These a strong-copyleft licenses with an additional clause that requires source code disclosure to users accessing the application over the internet.
  • I tried reading the AGLP. Could you tell me which section specifically addresses my question? Section 5 D leads me to believe it doesn't
    – Ned
    Nov 19, 2022 at 3:11
  • 3
    @Ned AGPLv3 sections 6a and 6b specifically address your case 1, and section 13 addresses your case 2.
    – MadHatter
    Nov 19, 2022 at 7:04

This is not legal advice and I am not your attorney.

Copyright law does not deal with "use," and therefore, neither do many copyright licenses. When you see the word "use" in a license grant, that's a strong implementation that the license is or includes a patent license.

Copyright law does cover distribution of copies, preparation of derivative works, public display, and a few other things.

The GPL covers distribution of the work and derivative works, including distribution through physical hardware, but not including hosting on the server side of a server-client interaction.

The AGPL, though section 13, also covers network interactions with modified versions of the work and derivative works of the modified version of the work.

No copyright license will block all use cases because copyright law itself does not block all use cases, and licenses only exist to grant permissions.

  • "Copyright law does not deal with "use,"" <-- There's plenty of software that says you may use the software but not to publish benchmarks or other things. Is this a EULA thing and are EULAs different from copyright?
    – Ned
    Nov 23, 2022 at 4:08
  • A EULA is an End User License Agreement, which grants you all the necessary permissions to use software, including permissions you need to download a copy and use the copy to do whatever the developers say you can do. Now, whether they're patent licenses, or conditions placed on copyright licenses ("you can download a copy, but only if you promise to follow these rules when you use it,") that's a funky question, but copyright law does not deal with use.
    – Daniel
    Dec 7, 2022 at 21:42

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