GPL Time-bomb an interesting approach to #FOSS licensing

UPDATES Following some feedback I am going to rename my usage of “Time-Bomb” due to potential negative connotation on the words. I am going to call it “Eventually Open”. Also a few other things need mentioning. I am not looking for code submissions back into the source at this time. This was a move to show that there are no back-doors in the code sending source code back to a master server.

About a week ago I released searchcode server under the fair source licence. From day one I had wanted to release it using some form of licence where the code was available but I wanted to lock it somewhat because frankly I do want to make some money out of my time investment. That’s not the whole story however. I did not want to create another “Look but don’t touch” situation forever and I certainly didn’t want searchcode to be constrained by a licence in the event that I die, lose interest or stop updating the code.

The result of this was that I have added what I am going to call a GPL Time-Bomb into into the licencing of searchcode server. Here is how it works. After a specified period of time the current version of searchcode server can be re-licensed under the GPL v3. This is a shifting date such that each new release extends its own time-bomb further into the future. However the older releases time is still fixed. The time-bomb for version 1.2.3 and 1.2.4 takes place on the 27th August 2019 at which point you can take the source using GPL 3.0. Assuming searchcode server 6.1.2 comes out at roughly the same time its time-bomb will be set to the 27th of August 2022 but the 1.2.3 release will be unaffected.

In short I have put a time limit of 3 years to make money out of the product and if I am unable it is turned over to the world to use as they see fit. Even better, assuming searchcode server becomes a successful product I will be forced to continually improve it and upgrade if I want to keep a for sale version without there being an equivalent FOSS version around (which in theory could be maintained by the community). In short everyone wins from this arrangement, and I am not forced to rely on a support model to pay the bills which frankly only works when you have a large sales team.

Here’s hoping this sort of licencing catches on as there are so many products out there that could benefit from it. If they take off the creators have an incentive to maintain and not milk their creation and those that become abandoned even up available for public use which I feel is a really fair way of licencing software.

Agree? Disagree? Email me or hit me up on twitter.