Open sourcing doesn't necessarily mean that you give away your source code for free.

I am wondering about the business model where your code is made public, free for personal/hobby use, but with a mandatory fee for commercial/company use.

Is this possible, and is there any existing license (or licenses) that are made for this? I want to make sure that companies and corporate entities play by the rules; a ready-made license would presumably help with this.


3 Answers 3


Coming from a background in open-source, your model is not that reliable.

In general, open-source licenses must comply with the open-source definition, in particular sections 5 and 6:

5. No Discrimination Against Persons or Groups

The license must not discriminate against any person or group of persons.

6. No Discrimination Against Fields of Endeavor

The license must not restrict anyone from making use of the program in a specific field of endeavor. For example, it may not restrict the program from being used in a business, or from being used for genetic research.

Which means not restricting anyone or any entity for any purpose.

This means you would need to dual-license your software under a custom commercial license and an open-source license. Your best bet to make companies prefer the commercial license is to use a license that requires source code of derivative works or modifications is revealed (such as the GPL) for open-source.

However, in practice, no matter what your license is, a company can and will just take the open-source version at no cost to them.

In the majority of these cases, even if your software was paid-only they wouldn't have taken it, and would keep shopping around for software they didn't have to pay for. This model can and does work, but keep in mind that enforcing it is hard.

The best route to go down is to make an open-source library. If it's popular (see FontAwesome), you can potentially make commercial versions of that library.

  • Understanding the sections 5. and 6., that would mean that the charge should apply to anyone equally, hence no version free of charge. Is it foolish to rely on people's honesty ?
    – Harry Cover
    Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 9:24
  • To be honest, you could argue that charging for an open source project both discriminates against those who cannot afford it, and makes a lot of people very angry :p. Dual-licencing is quite common, as (bigger) companies (with more money) will usually rather pay for your commercial licence instead of open-sourcing their own code under the GPL.
    – Amelia
    Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 9:31
  • 2
    As a fine point, I'm not sure about that. Charging for the distribution of open-source software is defended by both the FSF and OSI, see eg this answer. The usual rationale is that if you charge too much for the first copy of a piece of free software, you'll never be asked for a second: the recipient of the first will exercise his/her rights under the licence, and redistribute themselves, at much lower or zero cost. But that definitely doesn't prevent you from charging for the first, and people who get angry don't understand free software.
    – MadHatter
    Commented Sep 18, 2015 at 9:27
  • 1
    You need go no further than point 1. of the open source definition - "The license shall not restrict any party from selling or giving away the software...". If you post your source code on a web site and then say "You're not allowed to redistribute this" in your license, it's not open source.
    – Brandin
    Commented Sep 18, 2015 at 10:09

Just consider that the wast majority of software is "one shot", where open source or not is quite irrelevant (think e.g. of the payroll system). Making a package "generic" (for several different users) is hard work, and unlikely to pay off unless the user base is large.

The successful open source based models are in the line of offering the software as open source, and offer paid maintenance/support on the side. But that requires a solid user base (most will just go cheap, only a fraction will pay), and an extremely well honed support group (in-house expertise and development). Red Hat works this way, bundling software build by an army of others. Their added value is making sure it works seamlessly, and selecting and stabilizing packages. Their product is huge and they have much of the people developing critical parts of it (Linux kernel, Gnome, and others) on their payroll.


You could always take the "pay for documentation" route. Give away just enough documentation to get people started and wanting more. Then publish a book containing a deep dive into the advanced use of your project. ANTLR took this route. I've no idea how profitable it's been though.

Another viable monetization is paid support. Corporations pay you to prioritize bug fixes & features that they care about.

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