Does an Open Source license exist that allows me to retain rights to revoke usage of software/source at any time, for any reason, and without warning?

I want to allow others to use my software and source code for free but at the same time, I want the ability to revoke rights to usage if I don't agree with the ways that the software and/or source is being used.

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    What makes you think anyone would ever use your software and source in the first place with that sword hanging over their heads? Commented Aug 21, 2013 at 16:54
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    @whatsisname Hmm... a Damocles license?
    – user40980
    Commented Aug 21, 2013 at 17:09
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    Tell us what software it is so we can avoid it. ;) Commented Aug 21, 2013 at 17:14
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    How would you implement this in practical terms? You can revoke my license but how would you learn of "unacceptable" use? How would you enforce the revocation?
    – Freiheit
    Commented Aug 21, 2013 at 18:43
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    Also if the software is open source, I would at one point have had the source. Most definitions of open source allow for forks and clones in some way or another. Reality means I can copy your code and do as I please because there is limited enforcement of the requirement to keep the original license on derived works.
    – Freiheit
    Commented Aug 21, 2013 at 18:44

4 Answers 4


That would not be an Open Source license by the definition of the Open Source Initiative:

5. No Discrimination Against Persons or Groups

The license must not discriminate against any person or group of persons.

Rationale: In order to get the maximum benefit from the process, the maximum diversity of persons and groups should be equally eligible to contribute to open sources. Therefore we forbid any open-source license from locking anybody out of the process.

Some countries, including the United States, have export restrictions for certain types of software. An OSD-conformant license may warn licensees of applicable restrictions and remind them that they are obliged to obey the law; however, it may not incorporate such restrictions itself.

6. No Discrimination Against Fields of Endeavor

The license must not restrict anyone from making use of the program in a specific field of endeavor. For example, it may not restrict the program from being used in a business, or from being used for genetic research.

Rationale: The major intention of this clause is to prohibit license traps that prevent open source from being used commercially. We want commercial users to join our community, not feel excluded from it.

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    Not sure these points strictly prohibit any revocation. What if one were to write an open source network administration tool, but someone uses it for hacking? Commented Aug 21, 2013 at 16:11
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    That would be to restrict a specific field of endeavor, or to restrict a specific person because they have done something the copyright holder did not like. I can understand wanting to restrict such things, and you are free to choose a license to enforce whatever conditions you feel are most appropriate, but it would not be an Open Source license with those restrictions. Commented Aug 21, 2013 at 16:16
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    @AlanShutko - What if the OP were looking for a license which allowed blanket revocation of rights (i.e. "This software is no longer available to anyone under any license")? That's how I read the question the first time.
    – Bobson
    Commented Aug 21, 2013 at 16:43
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    Interesting thought. The OSD does not seem to say anything specifically about that, but the FSF does say licenses need to be irrevocable. My personal read on it would be that wouldn't be Open Source, and would be something I would be loathe to rely on, but I can't say definitively. Commented Aug 21, 2013 at 16:51
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    @AlanShutko. I don't think it would pass Debian's desert island test.
    – TRiG
    Commented Aug 21, 2013 at 22:51

If you can revoke someone else's use at any time for any reason, they don't have a license, they just have nominal permission.

A simple statement like what you had in the question is enough, though you may want to specify exactly how quickly they should stop using your code if asked.

  • 1
    A license is a kind of permission. "Nominal" means in name only, but not really, which isn't true; the permission is real until it is revoked.
    – Kaz
    Commented Aug 21, 2013 at 21:32
  • "nominal" also refers to a trifling amount, as in "nominal price". otoh, if it can be revoked at any time for any reason without any notice, it's not really permission either.
    – DougM
    Commented Aug 21, 2013 at 21:59

It may depend on where you live (the jurisdiction). Here's a 2003 article "Problems in Open Source Licensing" by Jeremy Malcolm, an Australian IT lawyer, who gives his opinion that under Australian law, any free license can be revoked arbitrarily: GPL, BSD, MIT, anything. Precisely because the licensee has not paid for it or exchanged anything of value for it.

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    This is my understanding of how things worked. However, if the open source has multiple authors then it is no longer your decision alone.
    – emory
    Commented Aug 21, 2013 at 20:19
  • @Chad thanks for your comment, but I believe that's exactly what my answer says?
    – MarkJ
    Commented Feb 18, 2016 at 14:09
  • @MarkJ Just for clarification after I delete the above comment. It really depends on the License. For example if the open source license is a Non-perpetual license then it could be revoked at any time. Though once something is gifted, it cannot be revoked (Unless explicitly stated in the agreement). The copyright owner has complete freedom for new versions to change the license agreement, but if you adhere to the license of your version then the copyright owner cannot revoke the license.
    – Chad
    Commented Feb 19, 2016 at 3:10
  • @Chad Not under Australian law. See my answer.
    – MarkJ
    Commented Feb 19, 2016 at 16:57

If you don't want it to be used in certain situations why not spell it out in the license up front?

A license is a contract, whatever terms and conditions you spell out go as long as they are legal in contract law, no slavery, racism or other protected class discrimination.

As an example of other projects that do this here is a project (GPU grid processing for gnutella) that put a no military use clause in their license.


GPU is a Gnutella client that allows users to share CPU-resources... (which is under GPL and targets only peaceful goals btw).

http://archive09.linux.com/articles/56426 - an interview with the devs where it gives a bit of their license:

Tiziano Mengotti and Rene Tegel are the lead developers on the GPU project. Mengotti is the driving force behind the license "patch," which says "the program and its derivative work will neither be modified or executed to harm any human being nor through inaction permit any human being to be harmed."

  • Which depends on the legislation whether 'no military use' can be enforced.
    – topskip
    Commented Aug 21, 2013 at 21:08
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    I've also seen licenses that specifically state that the software is not permitted to be used in nuclear weapons research. I'm not sure how enforceable it is, and to be honest I'd expect that any organisation conducting nuclear weapons research will either have access to alternatives or not care about your license.
    – Aesin
    Commented Aug 21, 2013 at 21:46
  • Re "A license is a contract": there is no global legal consensus on whether this is the case. Some courts have recognized open source licenses as contracts, while others only recognized them as statements of copyright. This distinction is important because there are differing consequences for violating each. In the case of the GPL, GNU explicitly argues it is not a contract. Commented May 19, 2019 at 10:11

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