A small independent company develops an innovative product, licensed under GPL. A sizable investment of many months of R&D to bring the initial release, and a non-trivial cost to maintain and develop further. The product is therefore priced to cover the operational expenses of the original development team.

Company B takes the product code, which it is free to do under GPL. It repackages the code, which it is free to do under GPL. And sells it at a significantly undercut price, which it is free to do under GPL. It has no trouble affording to since it has none of the development and maintenance cost.

So my question is how does a fairly small, independent company survive on writing GPL software? What are the common business models and practices for operating under GPL?

A clarification: The context is of an end user product designed to be simple and intuitive, rather than something complicated and difficult to deploy, manage and operate enough as to mandate perpetual paid commercial support, which is one of the ways fairly big and entrenched companies monetize open source code.

  • 3
    While it doesn't discuss GPL exclusively, see the robust set of answers at opensource.stackexchange.com/questions/88/…
    – apsillers
    Commented Jul 20, 2023 at 2:10
  • It's worth bearing in mind what a license is: it's an expression of what the authors of a work want to happen to that work. So, if a company is releasing code licensed using GPL, it really is saying, "Please, take our work and enjoy it (subject to some specific requirements)". However, if the company really doesn't want anyone else accessing / exploiting the source code, then they should not be licensing it under GPL (or any other OS license) in the first place, it should be proprietary.
    – bazza
    Commented Aug 15, 2023 at 19:08
  • Where it can get interesting is in the situation where the company has distributed a binary and says it's GPL, and owns all the source code. The recipient can ask "give me the source code", and the company can say "no". Only the authors (the company) can sue for GPL violations, and it's not going to sue itself. This is rather a pointless and unhelpful situation to artificially create, because it's deceiving recipients. Also it would be dangerous in other ways; users (who have paid for the software in your scenario) have been tricked into thinking they can also get the source.
    – bazza
    Commented Aug 15, 2023 at 19:15


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