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This question already has an answer here:

In this thread it is discussed if it is legally possible to take on open source project and close its sources. But this seems to refer to someone else's project.

So, my question is: What about my own source? Let's say I release the first version as open source, then I make some changes and I want the code from now on to be closed source.

  • Is that possible with me as the original copyright holder (with no one having contributed changes except me)?
  • Even if I release my program as open source, I am the copyright holder after all, am I?

marked as duplicate by svidgen, Jörg W Mittag, Daenyth, BlueRaja - Danny Pflughoeft, user22815 Jun 7 '16 at 18:56

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

  • i don't see that this is a duplicate. I am asking about the "if" and "under which circumstances"... the other questions asks the "how". Additionally my question only refers to my own sources. – Willi Mentzel Jun 8 '16 at 8:38
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Is that possible with me as the original copyright holder (with no one having contributed changes except me)?

Yes, of course. It's your code, you can do whatever you want with it.

Even if I release my program as open source, I am the copyright holder after all, am I?

Yes, of course. If you weren't, you wouldn't be able to release it as open source, after all – only the copyright holder can give a license.

In addition, you can also choose to stop distributing the older versions, or changing their licenses to be proprietary as well. However, everybody who already received a license from you, has that license, you cannot undo that.

  • that clears it up! – Willi Mentzel Jun 7 '16 at 14:46
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    It would be worth mentioning, that everyone who already received your code under the open source license has the right to give the code to other people under the same license, so if you really take back the open source license for the older versions, other people will probably keep distributing it. – Kritzefitz Jun 7 '16 at 18:28
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    I have run across the opinions of a few copyright experts that, if there was no consideration exchange around the transfer of the licensed copy, then there is no contract, and the recipient has no legal claim to the licensed copy. At which point the legal copyright owner may, technically retroactively revoke the open-source license for all original distributees who didn't pay for it (which further revokes the license for anyone they distributed it to.) To my knowledge, this has never been tested in court, and would certainly result in a large amount of bad publicity to attempt. – Perkins Jun 7 '16 at 18:58
  • @Perkins -- "would certainly result in a large amount of bad publicity to attempt." Talk about your understatements! :-) What I have seen work is the original creator simply adds text to the old files saying that newer versions with wonderful new features are available for purchase @ foo.com. Anyone who is using the code in a meaningful way will probably be interested. It's sort of an after-the-fact freemium model. – Peter Rowell Jun 7 '16 at 19:42
  • @PeterRowell And, if you want to be a jerk, you put a clause in the license of the new software forbidding them to ever go back to the free version. People really need to read those kinds of agreements more carefully. – Perkins Jun 7 '16 at 20:22
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In the year 2000, Borland released the code to its InterBase database software as open source. For weird corporate politics reasons, they quickly walked it back and decided that further development of InterBase would continue as a proprietary product, as it had before, and they were able to do that. As noted above, they were the copyright holder and they had the right to do so.

What they didn't have the right to do, though, was take back the open-source code that they had already released. Borland stopped maintaining it, but it was still out there, legally made available to anyone who would abide by the open-source licence the code was released under, and the community took over. They couldn't call it InterBase because that was a registered trademark held by Borland, so they called the new fork Firebird.

Today, both the open-source Firebird database and the proprietary InterBase projects still exist and are under active development and maintenance.

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As the original copyright holder and no one else holding the copyright to any portions of the project, you can choose to close-source a later version. You can also choose to change the license on previously released versions. It won't stop anyone from using the version(s) under the license they received it under, though.

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