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Having witnessed projects such as LUFA, which are open source with the MIT license but still have a purchase button for a proprietary license of the toolbox (revoking the MIT License and offering support),

Is there a way to retain the right to sell a non-GPL version of the project that I'll be releasing as GPL? Or is this practice limited to permissive licenses such as MIT?

What are the drawbacks? If the GPL version gets updated, may I administer a private license for it?

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    Are you the sole copyright holder for the entire codebase? Or have you used GPL code written by others in making it? – MadHatter Mar 7 at 9:36
  • I have used BSD code but let's just assume I'm the absolute holder, so to speak. If I can release my work, may I retain the right to sell a private license if I release it as GPL? Do I lose rights compared to doing so if I were to release it something else, is it even possible? – lucasgcb Mar 7 at 10:09
  • The questions asked here might be a subset of those asked at So the GPL doesn't restrict the creator of the software in any way?, though maybe the comparison against permissive licenses makes this question slightly different. – apsillers Mar 7 at 14:17
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You intend to release a project under GPL. It incorporates some BSD-licenced code (you don't say which BSD licence, but let's assume it's 3-clause). You want to know if you can dual-licence this project under a proprietary licence.

I believe that you can, yes. You will have some minor labelling obligations from the BSD licence which must apply to both GPL and proprietary-licensed versions. As you develop the codebase, you may continue to release it under either licence, depending on the requirements of the customer you're releasing it to. If you accept third-party contributions to the code, you will need to have either a Contributor Licensing Agreement or full Copyright Transfer Agreement in place with each contributor before including their contributions in the code.

And as ever, IANAL/IANYL so take proper legal advice before betting a business on this strategy.

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The GPL, like any software license, restricts only those who distribute the software under the terms of that license. As the actual owner of copyright on the code, you do not require a license to legally distribute the code.

Thus, you can freely choose whether to distribute code you own the copyright to under the terms of the GPL, distribute it under a commercial license, or even to distribute it under the GPL to one recipient and under a commercial license to a different recipient. Of course, in that last case, the person receiving it under GPL would be allowed by the GPL to then turn around and give a GPLed copy to the person that you offered the software to under a commercial license, so people doing this will generally provide some additional benefit (support allowances, additional features, etc.) along with the commercial license which is not also made available to those receiving the code under the GPL.

There are a number of software packages out there which are offered under both the GPL and some form of commercial license. The first to mind is MySQL, which also stands a good chance of being the most prominent example of this.

Also noteworthy is Perl, which is dual-licensed under the terms of either the GPL or the Artistic License, but that doesn't directly answer your question, as both license options in this case are FOSS licenses.


Naturally, if the code includes portions which you yourself received under the terms of a license (GPL, other FOSS, commercial, or otherwise), then you may be limited by that license in what you can do with the complete code base. The above assumes that you are the sole owner of all involved code.

  • This is also a good answer! However it lacked a bit of detail of what one can do for maintaining the proprietary version alongside the GPL. MadHatter's answer brought a nice topic to look into which is Copyright Transfer Agreements. – lucasgcb Mar 8 at 8:03

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