To make a sustainable living, we ask people who want to use our program to choose one of these options before receiving the source:

  • Donate/pay X amount of money
  • Volunteer/work for us for Y tasks
  • If they don't have money and time to help us, and the program is indeed important to relief some of their burdens, write us an email explaining their situation

After the hard time has pass, we will open the source. We want that during this time, once they have been granted to access the code, they can use it as if it's an open source software.

What licenses we can use before and after we open it? Can we still call the software open source when barrier is still there?

  • 3
    So you're OK if I pay you X, get a copy of the source, then put it up on my website for anyone to download for free? Because that's one of the freedoms explicitly guaranteed by free (open-source) software.
    – MadHatter
    Oct 15, 2023 at 19:45
  • For now, yes. They also need to have a link back to us
    – Ooker
    Oct 16, 2023 at 5:03
  • Must it be a link, or will preservation of your copyright notices do? Note that the former will make it non-free.
    – MadHatter
    Oct 16, 2023 at 5:25
  • @MadHatter if I make a file author.md which has an HTML link back to our website, and mandate that file is preserved, would that be compatible with any free licenses? I would like their users to acknowledge our situation, so perhaps it will need some fixation in the way of attribution. But if that really impedes the open spirit, then we may consider otherwise. (By "non-free", did you mean "non-open"?)
    – Ooker
    Oct 16, 2023 at 8:55
  • Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Open Source Meta, or in Open Source Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed.
    – MadHatter
    Oct 18, 2023 at 8:28

1 Answer 1


This comes down to whether you offer the code to the recipients under a true free/open license. The preconditions under which you freely choose to offer the code does not pertain to its status as free or open: the Free Software Foundation's list of required freedoms and the Open Source Definition both deal with what actions recipients can or can't take with the code, not the conditions under which someone becomes a recipient in the first place. In other words, if you choose to give the code only to people who have paid someone some amount of money, that's still compatible with open source, but if you want to limit others to distribute their copies only when some money has been paid appropriately, that's not a kind of restriction that's within the definition of free software or open source.

If you offer a binary without source and/or offer source under non-free/open terms, as a lesser tier alongside a paid tier to access full free/open rights, you should clearly indicate that only the paid (or volunteer) option gives recipients full free/open rights.

Practically, though, if you offer the code under free terms, then it's likely that someone will very quickly use those rights to host a mirror of your code, unencumbered by the requirements to pay money or perform other actions. If you don't afford your recipients the right to do this, then you should not call your software "free software" or "open source" -- the usual term for source code without full rights to distribute or modify it is "source available" software.

You also ask if you can require distributors to link back to your project. This is narrowly allowed in a non-obnoxious way; see the Apache 2.0 license's NOTICE file for a model of how this is done. (The GPLv3 also permits this, to enable compatibility with Apache 2.0.)

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