How to License Software

by Contributor

A software license both imposes restrictions and grants certain rights to the end user. Using the software outside of the terms of the license is considered an infringement and gives the owner the right to sue. There are different ways to license software.

License Your Software

Obtain a free software license. This license gives users the ability to modify the software how they want to and distribute it in any way they want. Copyrighted software prohibits users from redistributing or making any modifications to the software.

License your software with a copyleft license. Unlike a copyright license, users are free to modify, reproduce and redistribute software with a copyleft license. The only requirement is that users pass on the copyleft freedom when redistributing the software.

Use a Creative Commons license for your creative software, especially if you plan to release it on the Web. A Creative Commons license helps owners share almost all of their creative rights with users of the software and allows them to build upon it.

Try Open Content licensing. This type of license makes your work available in a way that is easily accessible by anyone to copy or modify at any time.

Make your source code available for modification with an open-source license. Under this type of license, your name and original copyright statements might be preserved, but you will not receive payment for the software.

Create your own license by making a list of what you want future users of your software to be able to do with it. Draw up a document containing this information, and include statements to inform users that using the software in other ways will violate the terms of the license.

Discuss your licensing needs with a copyright lawyer. Your license should state what the user is allowed to do with the software. The lawyer will be able to draw up a copyright license that will incorporate this information, while taking special care to limit your liability and protect your program from illegal use.


  • check If you decide to create your own license, consider having a legal professional check the final document for accuracy.


  • close If you're developing your own software, don't get a software license confused with a companion commercial license. This is especially important if you plan on distributing your software in stores or online for profit. Whereas a traditional software license dictates the terms for using your software, a commercial license details exactly how and when you will be compensated for the use of your software.

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