Is there a license that would allow a software vendor to show their source code to the public, but if the user wants to run the code require them to buy a license?

For example, the vendor could be interested in showing that there are no security flaws in the software, but not want to actually "open source" it in the traditional sense.

If there is not standard license that covers this use case, could you make your own that is legally enforceable?

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    Welcome! However, this is off-topic here, since any such license would not be Open Source as defined by the OSI. You would probably have to create your own license. If you want to make sure your license does what you want, consult a lawyer. That would be specific legal advice, and off-topic on law.se. Commented Feb 12, 2019 at 17:38
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    Looks like you want an NDA for people to sign before being allowed a limited code review. Definitely OT for opensource.se
    – ivanivan
    Commented Feb 12, 2019 at 17:58
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    As well as this licence not fitting the Open Source / Free Software definitions. Such an audit is useless, unless I can compile the software my self (or have a trusted 3rd party do it). There is no way to know that this source code went into building the software. Commented Feb 12, 2019 at 22:48
  • Source-available is the term. opensource.stackexchange.com/questions/10022/…
    – andreoss
    Commented Jul 7, 2020 at 23:46

1 Answer 1


If a software has no license attached, that would be the default: all rights are reserved, and no one else can legally make a copy. In practice this won't quite work because many people think “it's on the internet = it's free”, but there's no good way to prevent that misconception. There are some licenses that make this more explicit, for example Microsoft's suite of “shared source” licenses.

However, any such license or absence of license would not be Open Source. Open Source Software not only makes the source code of a software available, but also gives users important rights, such as the right to modify the software, share it, and run it for any purpose. See the Open Source Definition for details.

  • Well, if the source code is published without any particular license attached, that would probably not prohibit anyone from running it, as required by the OP, would it? It seems like an equivalent situation as with publishing a copyrighted video. Plenty of companies do that on their websites (e.g. product demo videos), there is typically no license information beyond "all rights reserved", yet I doubt the argument could be made that based upon default copyright restrictions, "you may have the file, but not run it in your video player". Commented Feb 12, 2019 at 18:34
  • @O.R.Mapper Depending on the jurisdiction there is a legally relevant distinction between incidental copies that are necessary to view a work that has been published online (like caching or in-memory copies which is fine) and making a permanent copy (like downloading, which is copyright infringement). Such copies may be fine for purely personal use or fair use, but it's not possible to detect or prevent that anyway.
    – amon
    Commented Feb 12, 2019 at 19:16

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