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Some software are released under the GPLv3 "or (at your option) any later version".

Mozilla Public License 2.0 (MPL-2.0) allows recipients of the software to use MPL-2.0 or any later version:

10.2. Effect of New Versions

You may distribute the Covered Software under the terms of the version of the License under which You originally received the Covered Software, or under the terms of any subsequent version published by the license steward.

But what happens if the license steward (e.g. the Free Software Foundation, or the Mozilla Foundation) goes rogue and releases a new version of the GPL or MPL that is wildly different in spirit to the previous versions of the license? For example, if the next version of the GPL or MPL is essentially a public domain dedication, will I be able to do anything to stop users of my software from applying the terms of the new license?

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  • I'd argue that the introduction of new technologies (imagine another jump as inconceivably big as pre-Internet to Internet) or legal precedent (imagine if court cases found that some parts of the GPL were only partially enforceable in dangerously problematic ways) might make it one day necessary to make a more-permissive GPLv4. I think whether doing so, in congruence with some (as-yet unknown) social shift, is "in the spirit of the license" is subjective: anti-Tivoization is one real GPLv3 feature that, e.g., Torvalds finds to be outside the spirit of the GPLv2.
    – apsillers
    Aug 28 at 15:34
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    All this to say that I think the "in the spirit of" language in the GPL is descriptive/predictive only, rather than legally binding, because it cannot be legally pinned down what the "spirit" of a license is or is not. See also Is the "similar in spirit" provision of the GPL legally binding?
    – apsillers
    Aug 28 at 15:36
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    Also, a more direct practical answer to your question, which I can't immediately find in the duplicates suggested so far, is to use "or any later version" with upgrades authorized by a named proxy agent. The GPL, at least, allows you to say "any later version published by the FSF that has also been authorized by {Agency X}." In this way you can hinge upgrading on any other agency you trust more than the FSF, but still requires the same fundamental trust, simply allocated elsewhere. Possibly you could employ distributed trustees by predicating upgrades on a logical-AND of approving agencies.
    – apsillers
    Aug 28 at 15:45

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