Are there established models for releasing an initially proprietary piece of software under FLOSS conditions after a defined period or a certain point of time? The main problem here is that all parties involved must be able to trust that the Open Source licensing will actually take place at the defined time and no party can further defer or cancel this process.

Clearly such a model has its problems, for example it's problematic to deal with contributions from "outside", legally and technically. Ghostscript is a prominent example where a deferred model has been used and abandoned. However, if certain parties involved will insist on keeping the software proprietary, at least for a certain period of time, then the only options are a deferred Open Source licensing model or no Open Source licensing at all.

I think I read about services that serve as trusted parties who take care of Open Sourcing the software. However, I was not successful in spotting any of those.

  • 2
    I think you'd require a pretty normal contract for that doesn't actually have all that much to do with licensing law. "<company> guarantees that <product X> will be released under <open source license> before <due date> or they will pay <big fine>." (Oh and IANAL ...) – Joachim Sauer Oct 18 '13 at 7:38
  • Have a look at mysql, and this question here: stackoverflow.com/questions/2818682/… – Marcel Oct 18 '13 at 11:03
  1. If the existing license doesn't already permit re-licensing, all copyright owners must agree to re-license an application. If any of the copyright owners object, then the re-license cannot occur.

    • Some licenses like BSD or MIT support re-licensing in a fairly straightforward manner.
    • Commercial / proprietary licenses generally don't permit re-licensing.
  2. If there are multiple copyright owners, it is possible to craft an agreement that effectively says "I agree to re-license my portion of application such-and-such under the terms of some-preferred-OSS-license so long as all other copyright owners agree as well."

    • Obviously, you need to replace "such-and-such" with the application name, and all of the copyright owners need to agree on a specific open source license.
    • I would strongly encourage consulting an attorney in order to craft this agreement. I'm sure there are hiccups that will trip things up if you try to do something informally.
    • The key is to get everyone to agree to the change if everyone is in agreement but to do so in a way that doesn't irrevocably commit them if an owner resists the change.
  3. Going forward, you should have all contributors assign copyright to the foundation you'll create in order to provide stewardship for the now open source application. By having a single copyright owner for all new contributions, future license changes will be much easier to implement.

    • Note that you can insert restrictive clauses into the copyright assignment paperwork that keep the foundation from re-licensing the open-source project as a commercial project. Again, consult an attorney, but it is possible to provide conditional assignment of copyright.
  • @GlennH7: I'll definitely consult an Attorney. Thanks for the advice! – Thomas W. Oct 19 '13 at 16:27

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