If yes, what are the consequences of Open Source projects being discontinued, if it's done by a large organization?

As per this post, the older version of project can still be used under the same old open source license.

Is there a way to make it so that the project can't be used under the old license?

  • Would this make it entirely closed source?
    – HDE 226868
    Commented Jun 24, 2015 at 15:34
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    Related answer on Programmers.
    – HDE 226868
    Commented Jun 24, 2015 at 15:44
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    @HDE226868 yes entirely closed source. Thanks for the related question Commented Jun 24, 2015 at 15:51
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    I'm confused, do you mean "make the project closed source" or "shut down the project"?
    – svick
    Commented Jun 24, 2015 at 18:17
  • Shutting down OSP should not be a big deal IMHO, someone else can continue it. But I'm talking about changing the license as the answers suggest. Commented Jun 25, 2015 at 1:54

7 Answers 7


Much would depend on the initial license chosen when creating the OS project.

If the OSP was originally published under a copyleft license such as GPL, then the answer is clearly no. They can not continue development under a more restrictive license without violating the terms of the original license.

A permissive license, such as Apache, allows the original publisher to effectively fork the project internally and abandon the open source version, making no more commits.

However, if the project was ever used (or even downloaded) by someone, even deleting the 'authorative' source repository will not stop it reappearing under a different guise.

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    Well, if I'm the owner of the project, the GPL license doesn't really apply to me. It starts to apply when I get more contributors and to forks of my project made by other people. The license is basically what I allow other people to do. I can do whatever I want with the code I've written. Commented Jun 24, 2015 at 16:12
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    It still applies to any code you have released under it - I think you are aware of this, but your comment opens the possibility to revoke the license retroactively. Commented Jun 24, 2015 at 16:29
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    @MichaelSchumacher If I offer a user to use it unter terms of GPL you are true (based upon the version the customer got). If not, than there is no issue.
    – frlan
    Commented Jul 1, 2015 at 8:54

Yes, and no.

As per the question you linked, if you're the only contributor, you can do whatever you want with the project. You can take it off GitHub or whatever platform you decided, you can compile and sell it, and whatnot.


  • You cannot do that if you aren't the sole contributor. You are no longer the only rights holder, and thus, the decision has to be shared amongst all contributors (Or alternatively, remove all contributions not made by you).
  • You cannot prevent someone who forked your projects when it was open source of continuing to distribute the application under the old license. You gave them a license to remix and redistribute your project, and cannot realistically revoke it. And what if their fork had forks? etc. This of course, depends on the license you've released your open source project with, and it is theoretically possible to add a revocation clause.
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    Note that licenses with revocation clauses are not considered free or open, for precisely this reason. Commented Jun 25, 2015 at 0:48

Technically yes, but practically no.

Technically yes - if you're the sole contributor, or you can get agreement with your co-contributors, you can do anything you like. It doesn't matter how you've distributed the software before: the original copyright is yours (or a group's and you have permission to act for that group) and you have permanent rights to do anything you like with it, unless you deliberately waive them. Thus, you can remove distributions, binaries, source, etc, from everywhere you've put it.

Practically no - if your project was any sort of popular, people will have copies of it that they are allowed to keep. Most (all?) licenses say that you can't revoke the right to use the software, as long as license terms are followed. If someone's got the software, tough. It may also have been forked and developed: you can't tell these people to stop either.

  • Wrong... if I got a copy of the source legally, and am allowed to distribute it, no later change of mind by the owner can change that permission retroactively. Sure, they can make it closed, and work away on on it. I can do the same with my copy. Consider e.g. the MySQL and MariaDB story: MySQL was GPL or proprietary, and was taken only proprietary. MariaDB started with the last GPL version.
    – vonbrand
    Commented Jan 16, 2016 at 22:35
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    @vonbrand ...I know. I've explicitly said that in the last paragraph: "people will have copies of it that they are allowed to keep" (and work on, distribute, etc). I'm merely saying that you can change what license you distribute under to a closed license.
    – ArtOfCode
    Commented Jan 16, 2016 at 22:38

In practice, no. When someone obtains a copy of an open source work from the author, the license is effectively a contract where the author allows the recipient to deal with the work in many ways including use, redistribution and modification. The author is not allowed to unilaterally terminate this contract.

The author is of course allowed to stop doing any maintenance, to pull down their servers, and generally stop supporting anyone still using or wishing to obtain the work. They're also allowed to make a derivative of the original work and to not distribute the derivative under an open source license¹. But as long as someone else has a copy of the open source version and is willing to redistribute it, the author cannot prevent that.

In theory, some jurisdictions allow the author of a work to rescind their work. This is a moral right, alongside the right to be recognized as the author and a few others, distinct from the economic rights (which are basically the right to control who may have copies of the work). US law has no moral rights. French law does, and in France, moral rights, unlike economic rights, cannot be contracted away (any contractual clause to this effect would be automatically void). For example, the author of a book may demand that the publisher stop distributing copies (though they cannot demand that buyers of the book turn their copies in). A painter may demand their painting back to destroy it. Of course the author must then compensate the publisher or the buyer of the painting for their loss, which makes rescinding difficult in practice. Continuing on French law, for software, unlike other forms of copyrighted works, there is no right to rescind unless explicitly mentioned in a contract.

The absence of a practical possibility of rescinding a work is one of the important aspects of open source licenses. The fact that the source code (i.e. the prefered form of modification) will always be available means that a user of the work will always be able to continue maintenance if the original author stops doing so under satisfactory conditions. This is sometimes known as the “fork test” for open source licenses: they guarantee that no matter what the original author does, someone else can adopt the project and maintain their own version of it.


This is what happened to BitTorrent. They have stopped contributing to the public repository at sourceforge, removed all the files apart of the latest version and re-designed website, so all links pointing to source code files were gone. Also the licence was changing in the source code almost every major version (for instance the latest known source code was published as GPL). Further more, they've started new fork called uTorrent which is driven entirely on the closed source. So yes, theoretically you can close it. However I don't think the new more restrictive license would apply to the past already published code.


Yes, but you can't use the code. These days sudo is no longer distributed under the gpl, even though it is a direct descendant of root sudo which was gpl, because they kept track of which code had which licence, and replaced all the gpl code, which means that apple can now use sudo, make changes and not tell anyone. Bigger projects would find this more difficult.

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    That is completely different. They did rewrite the parts under a licence that they didn't agree to, to be able to control the license. Doable, but you have to get ironclad proof that no copying (not even via "somebody might have read the original sometime, and unconsiciously wrote similar code") has happened. See what the GNU project said about cloning Unix utilities: Take different objectives (eliminate limits, aim at generality, maximal performance) to make "accidental copying" unlikely/impossible.
    – vonbrand
    Commented Jan 16, 2016 at 22:42

Yes, it is possible to make an open source project into a closed source project.

The copyright holder can change the license of a project at any time, or cease to distribute source code of new releases. New releases can therefore be made closed source. Neither of these actions affect previous releases of the project which were distributed under open source licenses.

If the copyright holder wishes to affect previous releases, those releases must have been made under licenses which give the power to do so, such as licenses which are revocable, or expire (eg: Ritchey 2020-2030 Permissive License v1). Whether or not these licenses can be considered open source depends on your definition, but they appear to meet the definition put forth by the Open Source Initiative.

  • That license seems contradictory. First it claims an irrevocable right to use the software then it says the license expires. To my understanding anyone who received the license before 2030 has an irrevocable lifetime right to using it and after 2030 new people can no longer get that right. Commented Aug 11, 2022 at 1:15

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