A friend and I developed a software which we would like to be free as in freedom.

We would like our software to be available to anyone for no money, but we would like to sell the source code to those interested in.

My goal then is :

  1. Anyone has access to binary gratis
  2. Anyone who wants the source from our version pays a fee

Would it still be a FOSS ? If not, what could be an alternative ?

EDIT : to be clearer

My goal is not to be the sole vendor of the software. I'm aware that once the sources are bought by someone, then this person can distribute it, modify it and sell it without restrictions. My hope is that while my sources are still being updated, it would be better for someone to get the "official" version.

Actually, my main concern is there are still functionalities to be implemented, I'm eager to have some user feedback, but I don't want to accept merge requests from outside our team and I'm a bit afraid of someone forking and doing a better/faster job at implementing new functionalities.

  • 1
    Just FYI. The model you're proposing is called "Freeware" and was common in the 90s. Free to use, but closed source.
    – RubberDuck
    Jul 9, 2016 at 12:28
  • @RubberDuck : I don't agree with the term "closed" because it's accessible. Imagine paying 2$ just to have access to code source and future alterations. Would it be that prohibitive ?
    – Kii
    Jul 9, 2016 at 13:01
  • 1
    Prohibitive? Yes. Unnecessarily prohibitive? No. However, it's still, by definition, closed source. This isn't really the place to discuss it though. If you want to discuss about it, you might find some one in the site's chat room willing to.
    – RubberDuck
    Jul 9, 2016 at 13:05

2 Answers 2


It sounds like you want to:

  1. make compiled (non-source) software available gratis, without the source code
  2. charge money for access to the source code, and (I think)
  3. be the sole vendor of the source code

Unfortunately these terms do not meet the free software definition:

1+2 limits freedom 1 ("the freedom to study how the program works, and change it so it does your computing as you wish"). Simply put, you cannot give someone compiled software without giving them the source (and still call it free).

2 is not inherently a problem. You can charge for free software.

3 limits freedoms 2 and 3 (redistribution of original or modified source code).

Business models for free software include:

  • Provide the source libre and gratis, charge for access to compiled binaries. Users with the ability to compile themselves can choose to do so, rather than pay you. They are also potential competitors, contributors or employees.

  • Provide source and compiled binaries libre and gratis. Charge for support and private modifications. Private modifications are still libre, your clients are again potential competitors, contributors, partners or employees.

In general, free software business models must replace monopoly of the source code with some other value-add, typically convenience, support, service or hardware resources.

  • Actually, I don't care being the sole vendor of the source code. Even if you're true that I'll probably sell only one copy. As stated in my edited question, I don't want to accept merge requests from outside our team and I'm a bit afraid of someone forking and doing a better/faster job at implementing new functionalities
    – Kii
    Jul 28, 2016 at 15:33
  • I think you mean Business models for FOSS software. Business models for Free, closed source, software exist, and are different. Eg Github Desktop / Github for enterprises. Jul 29, 2016 at 9:37
  • @Oxinabox the question is states "free as in freedom", in this context "free" is synonymous with libre not gratis
    – lofidevops
    Jul 29, 2016 at 10:45
  • @kii I have a few comments on your merge requirements (no problem, you are not obliged to accept merges) and concern about being outcompeted (your choice is: start free anyway, or release only when you're done, aka "skunkworks") - but I wonder if these are separate questions? at the end of the day, binaries without source is not free
    – lofidevops
    Jul 29, 2016 at 10:50
  • The question does yes. but why be weak with the terminology in your answer? Jul 29, 2016 at 10:58

You wrote the software, so you can distribute it however you like. The question is "can you then honestly refer to it as FOSS"?

I submit that you can, provided that you distribute it - whether you charge for it or not - under a FOSS licence. If, for example, you distribute the binaries under the GNU GPL, you are not bound by the GPL, so you are not obligated to convey the source to anyone getting the binaries, and the FSF are clear that you may charge for the source (or for any other part of the program).

The catch is that if you are distributing the source under the GPL, you will probably only ever sell one copy. The GPL gives the right to redistribute the source to anyone in possession of it, and you cannot restrict that without losing the ability to honestly describe it as FOSS.

  • 1
    This is an interesting point. I get what you're saying, but is there a paradox in still distributing the binaries under GPL? It would still violate freedoms if distributed without the source, so it seems it might be a bit disingenuous. Why not distribute binaries under a non-free license but then sell the source as GPL?
    – Tim Malone
    Jul 7, 2016 at 20:55
  • 2
    This "you can put the binaries under the GNU GPL, but do something else for the source" claim pops up occasionally, but I have yet to see any example of some software doing it. Got any? Jul 8, 2016 at 6:21
  • 1
    @MichaelSchumacher Distributing your binaries (for which you have full copyright control) under the GPL without source is not a copyright violation, since you've violated no one's copyright. Recipients of such a work could not really take advantage of the GPL license grant offered to them, since they could not possibly comply with the requirement to distribute the source when redistributing. I imagine there may be some kind of case for fraud (or similar offense?) for offering a license that explicitly encourages freedom to redistribute but then squarely denying recipients the ability to do so.
    – apsillers
    Jul 8, 2016 at 14:39
  • 2
    -1 this is a rather … novel legal theory stemming from a misunderstanding of the fact that the copyright holder is not bound by their licenses. By distributing a work under one license, you concede some rights to the user (and in the case of the GPL also make some promises to users, such as providing the source upon request). Such a license does not forfeit your copyright-rights, and you may also sell your work under another license that does not grant users all rights of the first license. This does not nullify your promises in the first license, to which you are still bound. …
    – amon
    Jul 9, 2016 at 16:11
  • 1
    Many FLOSS licenses do not only grant rights to users. Instead, they are more like contracts and specify the rights and responsibilities of both parties. E.g. the Apache 2 license prevents the copyright owner from suing users for patent violations under certain conditions. The GPL makes a conveyor responsible for providing the source code under some conditions (in one case, requiring a written offer that must be valid for at least five years). The copyright owner is not free to void such a contract once they have entered it by distributing some program under the GPL.
    – amon
    Jul 9, 2016 at 16:17

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