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Consider this scenario:

  • I am developing a program FooSuite that uses a GPL-licenced library QuuxTools
  • I release the program FooSuite 1.0 under GPL

Later on I discover that, for some reason, I need to licence the program to someone on different terms.

  • I remove the dependency on GPL via QuuxTools, by either...

    • rewriting the program not to use this library any longer
    • obtaining a different licence for QuuxTools (if it's dual-licenced; see PyQt)
  • I release FooSuite 1.1 under a non-GPL licence.

However, FooSuite 1.1 is still a derivative work from FooSuite 1.0. I understand that it's not legal for a stranger to do what I did, but am I myself - as the owner of FooSuite - free from this restriction?

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You can release the new versions under the new license. Isn't that's how Oracle is killing MySQL? – Manoj R Dec 10 '12 at 10:37
Fortunately, you absolutely can eradicate GPL. – DeadMG Dec 10 '12 at 11:32
A common license change is GPLv2 to GPlv3, which is allowed for the exact same reasons (or in case of Linux, disallowed since the owners do not agree) – MSalters Dec 10 '12 at 16:07
VLC is a useful case study in re-licensing an established GPL project (from GPL to LGPL):… |… – Kev Dec 10 '12 at 16:10
up vote 32 down vote accepted

So long as you retain the copyright to all the code that is part of FooSuite (this gets problematic if you've incorporated code from the community unless you got the contributors to assign their copyright to you), you are free to distribute the code under as many different licenses as you'd like. So you could release FooSuite 1.1 under a different license.

Of course, someone else could take the code to FooSuite 1.0 that is already released under the GPL and create their own OpenFooSuite 1.1 that would be under the GPL and incorporate whatever functionality you added for the 1.1 release. If there is a reasonably large community interested in FooSuite, it can be very difficult for your closed source version to compete with the open version.

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Note that more than one open source project was killed by it's fork (usually slowly). XFree86 is one example, it was replaced by X.Org. OpenOffice (now "Apache OpenOffice") resulted in a similar fork, called LibreOffice which may or may not turn out to be the sole survivor of the two. – Joachim Sauer Dec 10 '12 at 12:22
+1 for the solid answer. Remember that "Not using the GPL" is not the same as "Not open source". Pardoning the triple negative there, GPL is not the only route (license) to having open source. There's a whole host of alternatives. GPL may actually be inhibiting adoption by others because of its viral nature. – GlenH7 Dec 10 '12 at 14:34

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