I have a piece of software that could potentially be modified to provide revenue, but it is not going to be clear where the revenue goes - I want to add a license condition that ensures all users of any copy (including and modifications or derivatives) of the software know exactly where potential revenue goes.

Background: It is a website that allows to browse existing user content. I don't own the rights to that content. Anyone could host the website (showing the exact same user content as other hosts) and decide to enable/integrate advertisements. I want to ensure that users using any of these hosts at all times know WHERE the revenue from these potential ads go - to the content creator or to the website host.

Implementation of this restriction would be a link to a clear declaration visible on all pages that can display ads and - in case there are ads of both types, for users and for the host - additionally a small text displayed in every ad, e.g. "Revenue goes to user" or "Revenue goes to host".

As for the other terms of the license:

  • Keep header in each file linking to original distribution intact
  • Source is inherently open since we're talking about a website
  • Any derivative work has to include the same condition so that and further derivative is still bound to it

So I'd say MIT would work - if it wasn't for the extra condition.

How would I go about adding such a condition to an existing license without too much trouble? I don't expect anyone to actually pick this project up and host it, but I want to be sure.

  • 6
    "Source is inherently open since we're talking about a website" - Just because you can click "View source" in your browser does not mean that the software that serves that web site is open source.
    – Brandin
    Sep 3, 2019 at 5:50
  • Your best option is to hire a good lawyer and ask them to write a license agreement for you. Licenses are legal documents, so they are best written by lawyers. Sep 3, 2019 at 6:19
  • @Brandin True, but in this case nearly all the logic is within the website itself, and changing that is non-tivial. Although it WOULD be trivial to hide the ad distribution server side so I guess that is valid.
    – Seneral
    Sep 3, 2019 at 9:43
  • @Seneral What I mean is that 'open source' refers to a type of license. It doesn't affect the license if the logic is all 'in the website itself' or if you are or are not hiding details on the server.
    – Brandin
    Sep 3, 2019 at 13:24
  • @Brandin ah alright, misunderstood. What I was going for with that sentence was: You can always check for yourself in the code to see where the revenue goes - but it's not always trivial when the server sends the adsense id (or smth). Thanks!
    – Seneral
    Sep 3, 2019 at 13:52

1 Answer 1


We have a question here from someone who is opposed to the current idea of copyright and wanted a license (s)he could combine with ordinary copyright to simulate the effects of his/her view of how copyright should work. It wasn't really possible to satisfy him/her, because of an underlying problem: when you take a system designed to achieve certain ends through certain mechanisms, and try to make it achieve similar ends through different mechanisms, it tends not to work well.

Permissive licences are explicitly designed to allow the monetisation of other people's software. Copyleft licences avoid the sort of ends you have foreseen, where someone runs a copy of your software to generate revenue which they keep, but the mechanism by which it avoids these ends is by preserving the freedom of end-users to make yet another copy which doesn't generate revenue for the offending party.

Many single-use free-with-a-twist licences end up classified as crayon licences; these are a problem and may end up making your code unusable. My advice is to accept the current system's way of achieving the ends you desire: release your code under AGPL and empower users to escape annoying revenue traps. Alternatively, don't release it at all, thus denying anyone else the right copy it - as Brandin pointed out above, publication doesn't imply licensing. If neither of those appeals to you, then as Bart has advised, get your new licence professionally written.

  • I would not characterize copyleft licenses as "anti monetization", but rather that their goal of end-user freedom renders monetization schemes based on selling copies ineffective (economically non-viable). Sep 3, 2019 at 9:01
  • @BartvanIngenSchenau broadly, I agree with you, and have modified my language slightly to better reflect that. Thanks!
    – MadHatter
    Sep 3, 2019 at 9:41
  • That makes a lot of sense. Definitely don't want to create a 'crayon' license here. I'll use AGPL as you suggested, makes a lot of sense in this context, and add a comment in the readme regarding my thoughts on ads. Lets me be a bit more freeform as well.
    – Seneral
    Sep 3, 2019 at 10:28

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