I'm developing a pretty unique software product, which I believe can be useful for professionals in organizations. I spent a lot of personal time on it and it would be great if companies could pay/donate for it. On the other hand, I definitely would like to go open-source, so community would be able to help me to improve the project in the long run.

I see that it is encouraged on GNU website, and some companies actually would be happy to donate to OSS products providing them business value, if that would be legally allowed and easy to do.

What I don't understand is how actually I can make it work?

The best idea I came up with is to offer 2 options on the website:

  • PERSONAL LICENSE KEY (any donation, removes "buy me" text in the status bar)
  • COMMERCIAL LICENSE KEY (let's say $50, removes "buy me" + I provide priority support and feature requests)

Is this a correct way to sell it? Are there any better ways to do that? Which of Open Source licenses is better to use for this purpose?

  • 2
    Free/open source software does not usually have 'license keys'. Instead you should look into making two editions -- a "Free" edition and a "Commercial/Professional/[insert other nice sounding marketing word here that would persuade businesses to pay money for it]" edition.
    – Brandin
    Commented Aug 6, 2019 at 4:53
  • I agree, license key sounds weird. How about sponsor and commercial plans, with activation keys? I definitely would like to encourage donators somehow (give them the key, which can disable nag + mention their name - "sponsored by John Doe". At the same time, I need to give an opportunity for the companies to buy something, maybe priority support plan, with a l̶i̶c̶e̶n̶s̶e̶ activation key per machine. Does it sound better?
    – silent-box
    Commented Aug 6, 2019 at 14:25

2 Answers 2


If it is Free Software, getting the source and removing the "buy me" nag should trivial to do, quickly followed by a new github with the code posted.

To do what you want, you simply have a not too nagging screen asking for donations and offering commercial support or wishlist work (I have $25 and wish there was a keyboard short cut for foo).

You'll want to be sure you solve any copyright issues regarding resulting work (ie, is it work for hire and company owns new bits? or is it yours and they just rewarded you for filling a feature request?) and get a contract, etc. before actually writing any of the custom code.

  • 2
    I don't worry if someone create a fork and removes "buy me". It won't be too nag, just a short sentence in the status bar. Since I decided to open-source it, then my work is to keep the repository the most popular, so nobody will every bother to search for a modified fork. The only intention is to give an opportunity to buy/donate for people and companies, who really want the project to be alive and keep developing
    – silent-box
    Commented Aug 6, 2019 at 14:31

There are a few solutions:

Qt is released under both a commercial license and the LGPL. Many companies find the LGPL license too contaminating (must release derivative works, no static-linking, must provide sources if distributing binaries, yada, yada, yada) so they pay significant amounts to Qt to have a commercial license instead.

Another option is to release with a free license, and go with the "support" scheme. Allowing users to buy development of features and buy prioritization of bug fixes. Maybe they can also purchase installation and configuration support. This makes your support of the software the product, instead of the software itself.

Your "license key" suggestion is possible, it sounds more like freeware than FOSS. If you did release the source code, it wouldn't be hard to remove the locks. FOSS usually doesn't have piracy protections other than the license text itself. That's generally because you can't really pirate FOSS if the license grants a right to re-distribute. The closest thing to a pirated copy would be a re-distribution of binaries without source code. A user who gets a binary without source code, would be encouraged to report the violation to the copyright holder (you), and you would be entitled to pursue the re-distributor for copyright infringement.


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