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I have a JavaScript library which I want to open source AND potentially make a business out of. I've seen lots of companies that provide open-source software use the AGPL3 license, but I have a few questions about the commercial applications.

Let's say for the sake of this question, the software I'm building is a library that takes a file (text, markdown, whatever as long as it's formatted properly) and turns that into a neat little HTML page with a lot of cool features such as ticket widgets, embeds, graphs, 3rd party integrations on page, etc. It's a little bit more useful than it sounds I think, because there are huge companies that provide this exact same service as a subscription model.

Now the thing is, my software runs entirely locally on the client side, and you can hook it up to your server if you wanted to. I want people to self-host the pages they create. I would like to have a cloud version someday, but I simply don't have the resources for that right now.

Anyway, provided that I want to open-source my software, how can I actually use the AGPL3 license and still try and create a business? Do I open-source the code under AGPL3, but for people who want to use my software AND don't want to disclose their source code, they can get a business license? I'm not sure if that makes total sense in my head yet. Ideally, I would want three pricing tiers: Single Site (one time fee), Multi Site (one time fee, capped at a certain number of employees), Enterprise (support, contact us, etc. the usual).

Can anyone help me understand better? Does the AGPL3 even make sense in my use-case? I know there's one called BSL, but that's not really open-source. Thanks for any help/answers. Also under AGPL3, can someone just come in and take my software and start selling it (provided they use an open source license)?

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Do I open-source the code under AGPL3, but for people who want to use my software AND don't want to disclose their source code, they can get a business license?

Yes. With slight variations, this is how (e.g.) Qt works.

Does the AGPL3 even make sense in my use-case?

Yes but no. For the case of client-side JavaScript where you're distributing the code, there's effectively no difference between the AGPL and the "base" GPL v3.

Also under AGPL3, can someone just come in and take my software and start selling it (provided they use an open source license)?

Yes. However, it's very hard or needs a very specialised use case to make money purely from selling (A)GPL software because as soon as you've sold one copy, that person has the right to distribute it for free.

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    Thank you for the answer. "Yes. However, it's very hard or needs a very specialised use case to make money purely from selling (A)GPL software because as soon as you've sold one copy, that person has the right to distribute it for free." Could you elaborate on this a little more? Couldn't they do the exact same thing as I want to do here? Offer AGPL3 for the code, but for business use (source not available), sell an actual license.
    – darkhorse
    Commented May 19 at 9:58
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    No, because only you (the copyright holder) have the right to release the code under a non-(A)GPL license. Commented May 19 at 10:02
  • Okay now it makes sense to me. Thank you so much!
    – darkhorse
    Commented May 19 at 10:05
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    Its important to note, if you do take the (A)GPL + propriety license model, it can be significantly more challenging to get upstreamed contributions, without significant business reputation, as you need to persuade people that licensing the code to you to allow for commercial use is a good thing. qt.io/community/legal-contribution-agreement-qt details the qt projects agreement. Commented May 19 at 16:23

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