I have spend many years during my PhD developing a code base and decided to open-source the code when I finished. It's currently under GPL. The code is used by many different research group around the world, and that was my goal; to provide a useful tool for the research community.

Recently I have been contacted by a company that wants to use the software. My intention was always to charge a fee for industrial use of the code. On the website, it says something to the effect of "GPL for academic use", "please contact me for industrial licensing".

Firstly, do you think this is reasonable approach? Personally, I don't think that industry should get a free ride from my publicly funded research code.

Secondly, what are reasonable terms, pricing and software license for an "industrial license"?

  • 1
    Well, you can dual license it but there is nothing preventing an industry concern from picking up a copy of the "academic" code from a professor they know. The GPL is like that. Jun 18, 2014 at 2:54
  • 2
    Why not make it GPL for everyone? Most commercial parties will ask for another license anyway if they plan on using it in their own projects due to GPL's nature. Let them come to you for details, just make it clear that proprietary licensing is possible. Dual licensing is not in conflict with GPL. Dual licensing on-demand is easier than saying it's GPL for X, Y and Z but not A and B. Jun 18, 2014 at 5:46
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    IANA lawyer, but I don't think "GPL" is compatible with "for academic use only". There are other open source licenses that would allow this, but if you have already released it to people under GPL then in practical terms you are stuck with this.
    – Flyto
    Jun 20, 2014 at 6:53
  • Is your "code" a standalone executable, or is it a library? According to gnu.org "using the Lesser GPL permits use of the library in proprietary programs; using the ordinary GPL for a library makes it available only for free programs."
    – mhwombat
    Jun 20, 2014 at 22:52
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    Why don't you think that industry should get a 'free ride' from your research? What is the harm you are envisioning would ensue, if industry were to get a 'free ride'? (Isn't the purpose of publicly funded research to benefit society?) In practice, in selfish terms, your career benefits if industry adopts your idea, so it is probably in your interest to do whatever you can to support and facilitate technology transfer. The details of how to do that will vary from field to field.
    – D.W.
    Jun 21, 2014 at 2:02

4 Answers 4


Your license is not the GPL if you add additional restrictions, and your restrictions may turn out to be incompatible with the GPL in subtle ways. Consult an IP attorney.

Fortunately for you, even if your code is GPL, many companies might not want to use it because they might worry about it infecting their product. So, you might be able to charge them for a proprietary licensed version. That being said, if your work came in under a US grant from the NSF or similar agency, its terms may require you to open source the work period. Additionally, your university is likely to have an Office of Technology Commercialization or similar body that is responsible for software licensing to industry. At mine, the Board of Regents retains the rights to all software and commercially licenses it with the "inventor" getting half and the university getting half, typically, unless it is open sourced.

You should check with your university and the grant terms that funded your work. Corporations are typically tax payers in their local jurisdictions, so it's not necessarily wrong for them to benefit much as another researcher would from your work (i.e., for free).


If you own the code, you can use dual licensing model, offering paid commercial version next to the GPL version. While not very respected by GPL enthusiasts, this dual licensing model is not uncommon.

Most of companies really do not like GPL, even if the license terms would permit them to use the software as they plan to use it no problem (GPL is mostly about sharing the modified source code). This can be used to persuade them to buy a commercial license.


The GPL does not restrict them to use your code in in their commercial product. What it means is that if they use it/modify it then when they distribute their software they must provide the source code of their application and yours.

Because many companies don't want to share their code, they can ask you for another licence. Since you are the Copyright owner, you can use as many licenceses as you want.

This dual licensing approach is the one that MySQL used and continues to use now that they were bought by Oracle.

More information about: http://oss-watch.ac.uk/resources/duallicence2

Now there loophole if a company uses your GPL code but they don't distribute your software, ie as a SaaS, they are not required to make that code public. In order to fix that the AGPL license was created.

Finally if you really want to avoid anyone but you from making money of your product, you could consider the Creative Commons Non-Commercial license as mentioned in this answer

My recommendation is use Dual Licensing, and stick with the GPL or AGPL


As @elviejo79 mentions, in my particular field also, SaaS is rapidly making GPL moot as a means of earning money from your software; let alone as a means of furthering the goals of the FSF.

AGPL seems to solve that, but it is a bit controversial; it is the most up to date and purist version of FSF's vision out there, but it is also very incompatible with a lot of licenses, including GPL. And that may discourage a lot of use cases you did not intend to discourage.

Personally, I am more a fan of a license that explicitly states its intent (free for academic, not for commercial) than roundabout haggling as to what constitutes 'distribution' or 'linking'.

This Academic Public License seem to capture that intent pretty well. Note that offering a license like this is likely to get you rants from zealots how its not Real Open Source. But you can solve that by offering a dual AGPL license option. Hardly anyone might want to use that license in practice, but it will shut up these types, since it doesn't get more FSF-approved than that.

And as a bonus, as mentioned by @Bill Barth above, it might also get your university IP Commissars off your back. Definitely try and stay under their radar if you can; in my experience the last thing you need in your life is a bunch of clueless lawyers taking a year or two blocking releases of your work while trying to figure out if they can make a buck off it.

  • In the I wish I just did MIT because I think the vast majority of people are use code, make changes and never return and commits
    – boyfarrell
    Oct 16, 2018 at 11:53
  • Not sure what you are saying; do you think MIT would have been more effective in making people contribute back? Did you stick with your GPL license in the first place? And did you work out a commercial dual license? Oct 16, 2018 at 12:08
  • I guess what I’m saying is that I agree with you. Let the code be free, don’t tangle people up with the GPL, use a really permissive license like MIT, and put effort into make it more SaaS with a really low bar for people to use and get value out of the code. Like an open source mode with paid SaaS. Thinking out loud here.
    – boyfarrell
    Oct 16, 2018 at 12:12

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