Are there any licenses that allow anyone to distribute the source code, but pre-compiled binaries can only be publicly distributed by the original developer?

  • I don't see any benefit to such license. Also note there are languages with no concept of precompiled binaries. Oct 3, 2019 at 14:17
  • @JohnDvorak Suppose a company believed in free(dom) and transparent software. However, they still wanted the sole right to sell it in a "ready-to-use" format if users didn't want (or care) to view and compile the source code.
    – Chris
    Oct 3, 2019 at 14:37
  • As with John, I don't see the benefit. If you believe your software should be transparent, it's sufficient to distribute the source code yourself; it's not necessary (or even very beneficial) to allow others to distribute the source code. Generally, allowing source code distribution by third parties only becomes important if A) you want to provide a guarantee that the source code will remain available (users of your software don't need this; they can download it themselves) or B) you want to control licensing of adaptations (not really applicable in this case).
    – Brian
    Oct 3, 2019 at 15:04
  • 1
    I do not understand the significance of "publicly distributed". So I work for Acme Company. I downloaded your source code and compile it. The CEO wants every Acme Co worker using it. I distribute the compiled binary. It is OK b/c it is a private, internal, company distribution. But if Acme Co upgrades laptops and puts the old laptops on the public second hand market, then we need to scrub the disks otherwise we risk a license violation?
    – emory
    Oct 3, 2019 at 22:09
  • A receipient of such software might be able to distribute a program which incorporates a compiler configured to compile and run the licensed source code, which would possibly defeat the purpose of such a license.
    – bdowling
    Oct 4, 2019 at 6:05

1 Answer 1


Yes, and it's basically Red Hat's business model.

Anyone can get the sources for Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL), thus satisfying Red Hat's obligations under the various versions of the GPL. However, you can only get the binaries buy buying a licence from Red Hat, at which point you are required to agree not to redistribute the binaries. This has not generally been felt to fall foul of the GPL, or any of the other free licences that apply to software in RHEL.

This only affects redistribution of your compiled binaries. You cannot prevent recipients of the source code from offering their pre-built binaries to the world, though you may require trademark material to be removed (hence, eg, CentOS).

  • So would RHEL, itself, be considered source available, or proprietary? Also, I would think that trademarking of a product would be out of scope regarding licensing of the source code.
    – oxr463
    Oct 4, 2019 at 13:39
  • @LucasRamage The source code is available and if you compile something from that source yourself, you can be redistribute that.
    – Brandin
    Oct 9, 2019 at 14:34
  • @LucasRamage Yes, trademark and copyright are separate. If you violate the license, and they fail to sue you for copyright violations, then they can sue on trademark violations instead or in addition.
    – Brandin
    Oct 9, 2019 at 14:36
  • @Brandin they can sue you for trademark violation even if you are fully in compliance with a copyright licence. The matters are, as you say, separate.
    – MadHatter
    Oct 9, 2019 at 14:44

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