The proprietary software


The proprietary software

Proprietary software, also called private, non-free, or closed source, is a software whose license allows the beneficiary its use under particular conditions and preventing others such as the study, modification, sharing, redistribution or reverse engineering.

The restrictions are imposed by the holder of the rights of economic exploitation, that is the author or – in the case of transfer of the patrimonial rights – the transferee of the rights in question, through primarily legal means, as limitations in the license contract to the source circulation regime or patents, in countries where they are allowed.

Limitation methods are often also of a technical nature, when, for example, the software is published only in binary code keeping the source code secret. In fact, this simple practice makes the study and the modification technically impossible: by using disassemblers, high computer skills and considerable efforts are required to obtain information or make even minor changes.



The term “owner” is a barbarism now commonly used to translate the English word “proprietary software”, which means “proprietary software” In fact, software is not the “owner”, but rather the object that is exclusively owned.

English term is used by the Free Software Foundation (FSF) to describe software that is not free or partially free, although technically the term refers to any software that is controlled by an owner, and therefore it could be applied to any software that is not in the public domain. The FSF, however, uses the term to highlight the present contrast, according to supporters of free software, among the aims of the two types of software: proprietary software is developed for the owner, free software is developed for users’ freedom.

Open Source Initiative (OSI) prefers instead to use the term “closed source software”, translated from “closed source software”, by contrast to open source. In this way, the term emphasizes the only question of accessibility of the source code, which for OSI is primary.


Relationships with non-proprietary software

Some free software packages are also available with proprietary software terms, such as MySQL and SSH. The owners of the original copyright of a certain free software, even if released with copyleft, can use a double license to let both them and others can redistribute their own versions. Free software without copyleft, or free software “with permissive license”, allows anyone to create proprietary versions to be redistributed.

Both proprietary software and free software make use of the rules set to protect copyright even if the objectives are radically different. In fact the proprietary software makes use of the aforementioned rules in order to economically exploit computer programs and to define it as owner; the free software instead pursues different purposes, in fact the recourse to copyright is carried out in order to effectively make the program free, in some cases also in order to prevent third parties from depriving users of the freedoms granted by the original author of the software. In both the defined categories, the distribution and circulation of the software takes place by means of user licenses.