My question is actually two questions about GNU GPL and monthly fees:

  • If I build a server and use GNU GPL as a license, can I run it and charge the users a monthly fee without the need to distribute the source code? My understanding is that since the users buy the service and not the server, I can charge whatever I want without the need to provide the source code. Is this correct?

  • I know that I can distribute GNU GPL software for a fee, but what about monthly fees? If I provide the newest versions of my software, as well as the source code, only as long as the users pay me, and stop providing the source code and the software when they stop paying, am I violating the GPL?

EDIT: I think I need to clarify that I meant selling original software written by me and my team, not reselling existing software. I guess I'll just RTFL and maybe consult an actual lawyer.

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    You may find opensource.stackexchange.com a better place to ask this question. – JAB Apr 7 '17 at 0:36
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    As far as software licenses go, the GPL is really not that long, not that complex, and not that obfuscated. It is, in fact, rather short, rather simple, and written in a clear and understandable manner. Did you actually read it? What section, specifically, do you have trouble with? – Jörg W Mittag Apr 7 '17 at 1:15
  • Isn't this basically what github does for private repos? The software is basically free and your users pay you to compensate for the cost of the server and bandwidth. Sounds reasonable to me. – Maybe_Factor Apr 7 '17 at 2:06
  • @JAB when referring other sites, it is often helpful to point that cross-posting is frowned upon – gnat Apr 7 '17 at 6:38

You have a lot of confusion

If I build a server and use GNU GPL as a license

You don't use GNU GPL as a license on a server. Perhaps what you mean is "If I build a server and use GPL licensed software on it"

Then, your obligations will differ based on what you do with that server.

  1. If you sell that server to them, and they get the server with the GPL software on it, you are required to offer them the source code to it.
  2. If you use that GPL licensed software and your customers access it with some client, your GPL obligations will depend on what kind of client they are using, i.e. if the server software + client are essentially a single work. If they connect with any old web browser, then there are no restrictions placed on you.

As far as selling your software, you can sell it in virtually any manner you wish, whether that is monthly or not, but you must still abide by the terms of the GPL. That means most importantly that you must always provide the source when you distribute it, and that you cannot place any further restrictions on your customers, i.e. they are free to resell or share it, either with your customers or the entire world.

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    You're missing one point: If the OP is the sole owner of the code, they can release the code under different licenses, neating the whole issue. – Mario Apr 7 '17 at 6:03
  • @Mario: that's an unreasonable assumption, and if the OP is the sole author and doesn't say so he's wasting our time. – whatsisname Apr 7 '17 at 6:15
  • Possible, but why using "use GNU GPL as a license"? – Mario Apr 7 '17 at 6:49

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