Is there a license (similar to the GNU v3 software license) that forbids the usage of an open-source software in closed-source software, but except parties that receive approval by the original owner (NOT other contributors) to do so?

Imagine I write an open-source library, and I am the original owner/creator, and I only want to allow it to be used in open-source projects. But, I (and only I, without consent of other contributors) can allow a company to use the open-source library in their closed-source software in exchange for a fee or other advantages.

Another situation could be when I write an open-source library that I don't want to be distributed in closed-source software, except for closed-source software that I write myself in order to gain an income based on my open-source library, but not close the library to other people that want to create a new open-source project using my library.

1 Answer 1


The practice of selling exceptions to the GPL is perfectly commonplace, but you must either be the sole copyright holder, or else have prior permission from all other copyright holders. In order to achieve the latter, you must have other contributors agree to a contributor licensing agreement (CLA) that allows you, specifically, to offer that contributor's copyrighted work under different terms in the future. In order words, it is important that you not receive contributors' work under (exclusively) GPL copyleft terms, but under a much more permissive arrangement in which each contributor gives you latitude to do as you please with their contribution.

You may wish to search for CLA templates that suit your needs. (I cannot recommend one in particular.)

In order for a contributor to agree to such terms, it is either the case that

  1. the contributor doesn't care about GPL copyleft terms and would happily allow anyone to use their work under permissive terms, or

  2. the contributor has some expectations about how they trust you to exercise this privilege over their work. In this case, be forthright with contributors about how you plan you use their contributions. Surprising your contributors by doing something they did not expect, e.g., selling their contributions to a company for your own personal profit, is not likely to garner goodwill for yourself, nor attract future contributors to your project. Therefore, simply be upfront about your intent to do so, and you can still get contributions from anyone for whom that strategy is not a problem.

  • I know that the website choosealicense.com exists, but is are there any websites that offer similar functionality where you check a series of options and then the website will return to you the most relevant license?
    – Titulum
    Commented Apr 20, 2019 at 13:50
  • I'd add that one way (and the typical way I know of, but your experience might differ) to hand out a non-GPL version is to simply use another license for that one contract partner. Feel free to incorporate or not as you see fit. Commented Apr 20, 2019 at 16:51
  • 1
    This practice is called "dual licensing" or "multi licensing" and googling that will take you to some pages describing how it works and how to do it.
    – davidbak
    Commented Apr 20, 2019 at 17:52
  • 1
    The Harmony Agreements site offers some CLA templates that seem to be well-regarded, as far as a CLA can be well-regarded.
    – amon
    Commented Apr 21, 2019 at 7:57

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