I'm working on a theme for the static website generator Hugo to use for my personal portfolio website. Since I prefer open-source code and would like to keep all my own projects in the same vein, I want to release this theme's source (html/css/js) publicly under an appropriate license.

This would not only allow potential employers to look at my front-end code but also ensure that other developers can easily examine and learn from the ways I've implemented certain functionality.

  • One thing I want to ensure is that people will not reuse my theme as is without making any design changes. I believe that, as a theme for a personal portfolio, it should be unique; especially when it comes to front-end development.

  • I also want to keep any alterations to the theme open-source. That is, anyone who modifies it for their own purposes should be required to open-source their changes as well and make the code available to their site's users (which I gather is one of the main points of the GPL license family).

  • Lastly, I'd like attribution, but I reckon that this is part of most licenses anyway.

I believe that my best option is to license the theme under either the GPL or AGPL license and place a note in its README file that kindly asks the user to not simply copy the theme without at least making some design changes.

Provided there isn't a license for this exact purpose, is this a sensible course of action?

(If yes, does a web theme require the GPL or AGPL license, i.e. does it count as network usage?)

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    Why not simply release an already slightly different version of your theme as open source and keep the one you want to remain as unique as possible to yourself? There is no open source license that will satisfy your first requirement, and even if there was, it would be pretty difficult to make a sensible decision regarding the level of change necessary for the modified theme to no longer be the same. Commented May 22, 2019 at 6:47
  • @MansGunnarsson That would certainly be an option, but would require a second repository and additional maintenance effort. You're probably right with your last statement, i.e. it's hard to discern when changes are sufficient or not. I guess in the end I'll go with the friendly request in the README and not adding the theme to a public theme index. I also assume that the additional clauses of the AGPL are not necessary because no code is executed server-side. If you rephrase your comment as an answer I can accept it. Commented May 22, 2019 at 9:45

1 Answer 1


No open-source license allows this.

The Open Source Definition is the generally-accepted guide by which a license is declared to fit (or not) with the principles of open source. While it doesn't explicitly say you can't prevent people from distributing verbatim copies of your work, its wording implies as much. For your work to be licensed as true open source, others must be able to use and distribute it as-is.

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    However, adding trademarks into the mix (for example on a logo that is part of the design), can give the desired result of not having an identical design being used while also keeping the theme free for re-use. Commented May 22, 2019 at 18:06
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    Thanks, it didn't occur to me that my proposal wouldn't actually follow the open-source definition. I've decided to license the theme under the standard GPL, since only static content is served, and will simply rely on not advertising it apart from linking its repo on my site. Commented May 23, 2019 at 9:30

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