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proprietary: Intellectual property (programs, documentation, writings, patents, trademarks, trade secrets, etc.) owned by an entity, as opposed to, for example, public domain or free or open source software.


Must you necessarily pay for proprietary software? No, I don't think so (I mean, some owners may choose to give it away, either freely or for some other consideration).

I think a defining characteristic of proprietary is that generally it cannot be freely used and reused by a user of the product -- it usually cannot be redistributed unless the owner explicity grants such a right.

Can it be modified by the user? The owner may or may not allow that, and may or may not provide the necessary facilities to support modification (like the source code for software).

Free software (in a generic sense) provides you access to the source code and specifically allows you to modify and redistribute it.

Free software as "defined" by the GPL requires that you grant those same rights on your modifications and redistributions, and requires that those same rights be granted by downstream modifiers and redistributors to their users.

Open source software is not quite as free as free software. You can usually get the source, but you may be restricted in one or more of these ways (or others):

  • You might not be able to redistribute your changes.
  • You might not be required to grant the same freedoms to downstream modifiers or distributors -- they might be able to take your product (changes) "proprietary" (this is the case with products in the "public domain")

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  • RandyKramer - 14 Jan 2002
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