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Purely out of curiosity, I was posed the question with a hypothetical game corp. that has an online game that they require players to pay a monthly fee for. The specifics was that their service agreement stated that the user only has the rights to the client as long as their subscription is active.

However, said hypothetical SA poses a case where two players, let's call them John and Susan. John owns his own personal PC with the client installed. If John's subscription expired, by the SA, he would have to uninstall it essentially immediately. However, he does what any normal user would do and does not uninstall it. He is not licensed to run the client. However, Susan, assuming she has an active subscription, could run the client that resides on John's PC.

What if this client was under the GPL license? Would their monthly subscription expiring immediately deny their access to the source code of the application? (In terms of licensing, I'm not trying to somehow delete the code from their PC when their subscription expires)

Or, is this situation impossible due to it violating the license? (I can't remember where I heard it but I heard somewhere that subscription software is incompatible with the GPL but I haven't found any source on that.)

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  • Are there really companies require them to remove the clients after a license expired? I can't see any way this is not screaming at your customers "TAKE MY FREAKING FOOD OUT OF YOUR DOOR!".
    – Sebb
    Feb 17 '16 at 21:59
  • 3
    This question should go to OpenSource Feb 18 '16 at 14:38
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The GPL has nothing to say about licensing fees, except that you're free to charge them. There's nothing in the GPL that allows you to tie availability of the source code or the executable to the licensing fees.

Even if you built in a licensing restriction, there's nothing that prevents someone with sufficient knowledge from taking the source code and hacking it into an executable of their own that is immune from machine-based licensing restrictions.

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Just a follow up

service agreement stated that the user only has the rights to the client as long as their subscription is active.

If the client is GPL'd then this clause makes it incompatible. With GPL you can charge people for it, but you can't take away the source (or the right to the source, same thing). So if someone stops paying.... the game company can't do much to say "hey, stop using our client".

Would their monthly subscription expiring immediately deny their access to the source code of the application?

No. Once someone else has GPL'd code, they've got a certain set of rights about what they can do with it. If there's also an SA restricting them, then it's really not GPL'd code. But the game company could have some sort of modified GPL which really isn't open source. Nothing's really stopping them from making their own system.

But what's far more likely is that a game company releases an open source client that anyone can do anything with, and it connects to a closed proprietary server which runs the... game world or whatever. And they sell a subscription to allow your GPL'd client to connect to their servers. That's totally legit and viable.

There might be an argument for how the GPLv3 treats HW requirements, but client-server is pretty arms length. The argument is that someone could go make their own server.

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