I have recently been looking for open source dating software to build upon and I keep seeing things like this:





Which all clearly state that they are "Open-source", yet I cannot redistribute or resell anything, and I cannot have access to the source without paying minimum $200-300 in most cases.

Is my understanding of open source incorrect, is the landscape shifting, or are people just using this as marketing to try and entice unsuspecting buyers to their websites?

Is what they are doing legal?

  • Microsoft Windows is "Open Source" if you are a government. So? Feb 22, 2016 at 19:42
  • I didn't check out each of your examples, but notice that the last in the list, ph7CMS, does have an active code repository, under GPL licence: github.com/pH7Software/pH7-Social-Dating-CMS – so they use a freemium model, where the core software is indeed open source.
    – Manu
    Feb 23, 2016 at 12:16

2 Answers 2


Is what they are doing legal?

It certainly seems that way. The phrase "open source" is just a pair of words. Anyone can use the phrase to refer to some kind of "source" that is "open" in some respect.

The Open Source Initiative wrote the Open Source Definition (OSD), which is what most people mean when they say "open source". However, "open source" is not a trademark, and is probably ineligible for trademark status, according to Eric S. Raymond:

We have discovered that there is virtually no chance that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office would register the mark "open source"; the mark is too descriptive. Ironically, we were partly a victim of our own success in bringing the "open source" concept into the mainstream.

So "Open Source" is not and cannot become a trademark...

Thus, there's no legal impediment to using the phrase "open source" to mean a wide range of different things.

The practice of giving away the source but without allowing redistribution or modification is what the Open Source Initiative might call "source available," but again, there's nothing legally wrong with using "open source" to mean something other than "complying with the Open Source Definition." However, if you wish to make yourself clearly understood within the FLOSS community, please use "open source" and "source available" appropriately. Obviously, these companies are not interested in making themselves clearly understood within the FLOSS community; they are interested in making sales.

Finally, requiring payment to get a copy of the software is perfectly in line with the values of the Free Software Foundation and the Open Source Initiative. However, OSD-compliant software would allow you to freely use, modify, and redistribute the software once you paid for it, which these software products do not allow.

  • 2
    Wow, perfect, thank you for your response. That's really cleared it up for me, however I must say it is tremendously frustrating.
    – Hoss
    Feb 18, 2016 at 15:47

As @apsillers said, "open source" is just a buzzword, the fact that someone has open sourced their code doesn't actually mean that it is free to use and without any restrictions. A software can be "open source", but can still place many restrictions and terms of use, and on the other hand a software can be "closed source", but still its usage terms be pretty lenient in practice.

Two notable examples that come to mind of this dilemma are Oracle's Java and Microsoft's .NET. Java is open source but under Oracle's control. If you try to modify its source and build your own version, then Oracle will come after you as it went after Google when they built Android.

On the other hand, Microsoft is a proprietary company and .NET is their closed source stack (with some exceptions), but they allowed the Mono Project to happen and are absolutely OK with it!

This example shows what kind of a farce the word "open source" could be in some situations. Unless you read their license terms, you can't say anything for sure, open source or not.

  • 3
    The "open source" definition has a very clear meaning, which is quite contrary to what you state. Yes, .NET was reverse engineered into Mono. Microsoft can be furious about this (and probably would be if it made a significant dent in sales), but it is perfectly legal to create your own version of "something" to be able to interoperate with a widget of your own. Check the history around Samba for a detailed example of the later.
    – vonbrand
    Feb 19, 2016 at 2:49
  • @vonbrand The open source definition is always evolving, GPL 3.0 was introduced recently and now there is talk of upgrading that. Despite GPL, Oracle successfully managed to throw a lawsuit on Google for Java API, I rest my case with that example! Feb 21, 2016 at 16:05
  • 2
    The open source definition hasn't changed at all since it was published. It is based on earlier definitions of what Debian deemed acceptable, and doesn't really deviate much from that either. Whatever the latest fad chased by the FSF may be, has no bearing on this.
    – vonbrand
    Feb 21, 2016 at 16:14

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.