Georgia Ingham Georgia is a Java Developer. She has spoken at lots of conferences. Her hobbies include reading, completing puzzle books and cycling.

7 Ways to License your Software

3 min read

Some examples of Licenses that you can use for Software
Some examples of Licenses that you can use for Software

At IDR Solutions I have spent a lot of time contributing to the Java PDF Library and PDF to HTML5 Converter code base and I thought it might be useful to look at ways you can license your software.

There are a lot of different reasons why you would want to add a license to your code. You may not want anyone to be able to use or distribute your code. You might only want it to be used in non-commercial products or only allow your neighbour to include it in his product because you accidentally let his pet hamster out of the house (who never did come back).

The open-source community is growing. More and more developers are publishing their code online to websites like GitHub, SourceForge and CodePlex. As with publishing anything to the internet you should be wary and know what your rights are (especially when intellectual property laws can be a bit ambiguous).

If you want to find a bit more about publishing your code online then my co-worker Sam wrote an interesting article on comparing the Top 5 Free Hosted Version Control Sites.

1. MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) License

The true open-source license. Do what-ever you like with the code/software, just make sure you give the author the proper attribution. The license must appear in every copy or substantial portions of the software but nobody can hold you liable if any issues arise from using the software. More information and a copy of the license can be found here.

jQuery and Rails use this license.

2. Apache License 2.0

Similar to MIT License but you can not use any of the work under the original author’s trademark. It applies patent protection for the original author and later contributors and restricts the use of the original product’s name

Apache and SVN use this license.

3. GPL (General Public License)

This is the most widely used license but also one to be wary of. It gives everyone the ability to use, modify, distribute and run the software. It enforces CopyLeft which means that anyone who distributes this code (whether it has been modified or not) must enforce the same rights on that work. For personal use, you may include this software, but as soon as you distribute your modified software it has to use the GPL license – meaning you have to make your product open-source and every user will gain the same rights that you had. This is why it is known as a viral license.

If you want to have a less viral license then you can use the Lesser General Public License LGPL. This permits the use of a library or a jar in proprietary programs and protects your code under similar rules to GPL, but does not force any code outside of your own to be released under the same license. Your distributed code/library, whether it is modified or not must still retain its LGPL license.

The Affero General Public License AGPL tightens up the GPL license by explicitly defining a ‘grey area’ in the GPL. This means any code that is run on a server must still be available for distribution to the people who use that server.

Linux, and Git use the GPL license and Itext uses the AGPL license.

4. Artistic License 2.0

There are some licenses like the Artistic License which are preferred by certain communities. This one in particular is used by Perl developers. The Artistic License states that modified versions of the software do not prevent the users from running the standard version.

5. EPL (Eclipse Public License) 1.0

This license allows commercial use of the software without the recipient having to pay. It features weaker Copyleft enforcement than the GNU license. It allows people to use, modify, copy and distribute the code and modified versions. Some cases state that the modifications must be published. EPL requires that anyone distributing the work grant every recipient a license to any patents that they might hold that cover the modifications they have made.

This license is not compatible with the GNU license so any two works combined from these two licenses cannot be distributed.

The Eclipse IDE, Jikes RVM and UWIN use this license.

6. BSD (Berkeley Software Distribution) Licenses

These are a family of licenses that have varying clauses. Two of the GPL compliant licenses are the Simplified BSD license (2-clauses) and the New BSD license (3-clauses). The only differences between the two are that the Simplified version omits the non-endorsement clause. It also adds a further disclaimer about views and opinions expressed in the software. These licenses impose minimal restrictions on the redistribution of covered software so it is in contrast to Copyleft.

Berkeley Software Distribution uses this license.

7. No license

You do not legally have to add a license. Not having a license does not mean you are opting out of copyright laws it USUALLY means that the default copyright laws apply. You should double-check with a few of your legal buddies first before proceeding down this route, but generally, you retain all rights to your source code and nobody else may: reproduce, distribute, or create derivative works from your work. You can grant some or all of these rights explicitly to other parties if you wish to.

That is to only name a few of the major licenses out there. There are more that may be more specific. If you want to learn any more about these licenses and others check out

Our software libraries allow you to

Convert PDF files to HTML
Use PDF Forms in a web browser
Convert PDF Documents to an image
Work with PDF Documents in Java
Read and write HEIC and other Image formats in Java
Georgia Ingham Georgia is a Java Developer. She has spoken at lots of conferences. Her hobbies include reading, completing puzzle books and cycling.

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4 Replies to “7 Ways to License your Software”

  1. Your reference to the LGPL is slightly incorrect. Changes to LGPL software must still be released under the LGPL. The difference is that if your program uses and LGPL program (usually a library) as a dependency, the application doesn’t have to be LGPL, but any changes to that library must remain LGPL and the source available under than license.

  2. The NO LICENSE option is not an option.

    If a software component doesn’t have a licence, then I won’t touch it with a ten foot pole.

    To anyone who thinks it is okay NOT to put a license on their code, I would say the following:

    How do I know you won’t sue me for copyright infringement if I use your code? After all, I don’t have a license to use your code.

    What? I’m supposed to depend on your word, because you’re such a good guy?

    If you were such a good guy and give me your word, then you would put a license on your code! That license IS YOUR WORD, in a legally binding way, that I can use your code. If you are not giving me a license to use your code, then you ARE NOT giving me your word. You are basically saying I can use your code, but keeping your fingers crossed behind your back.

  3. I added the no license section because I just wanted to point out that if you did leave your software unlicensed then it is not totally unprotected. There are default copyright laws for your country that are applied.

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