Is it possible to keep the source code under an exclusive license, but apply the GPL license only to the built binary code, so that software that uses this binary code is subject to a GPL-compatible license?

If this is possible, is there an example?

  • 2
    No - by distributing a GPL binary you give the receiver the right to receive the code from you with a GPL license.
    – DavidT
    Nov 2 at 10:58
  • Interestingly the opposite has been done several times i.e. GPL source code that is used to build libraries & executables that may be distributed as non-GPL e.g. the gcc & wxWidgets runtime exceptions. This allows for commercial use of an open source component in commercial code without the "viral" effects of GPL. Nov 3 at 8:17

1 Answer 1


Assuming you're the sole rightsholder in the library, you can do this, but it's pointless. You are not bound by your own license grant, so can refuse source to those who ask for it (there might be arguments to made about promissory estoppel, but I'd hate to guess which way that would go).

But the recipients do not have that freedom. They have no power to redistribute source alongside the binary, because you have not given it to them, so they may not redistribute the binary at all (see, eg, GPLv3 s12). So what you've released is unredistributable software. I can't imagine anyone would have the slightest interest in using it, so I wouldn't bother if I were you.

If you're not the sole rightsholder in the library, but are releasing it GPL because you used upstream code in it which you received under GPL, you may not do this.

  • > I can't imagine anyone would have the slightest interest in using it, so I wouldn't bother if I were you. Why not? Plenty of people use proprietary software that they have no rights to redistribute. The OP's scheme is effectively just another way to make proprietary software.
    – bdsl
    Nov 3 at 0:54
  • @bdsl, then they should be clear about that up-front and use a proprietary license. That way, the users can make a properly informed decision about using the library or not (and about honoring the license). Nov 3 at 7:34

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