Is there a mechanism or service that allows me to offer my work under non-free terms, but guarantee that some time in the future, the work automatically becomes open source?

For example, could I release something under license A, but also under a free, irrevocable license B that only takes effect after the year 20XX?

Or is there a well-known service, who will distribute my work under a free license of my choosing after an agreed date?

There are a few motivations for doing so:

  • Perhaps I want to monetise my work in the short term, but would like the work to become free at a date sooner than copyright limits
  • I want to add value to users by guaranteeing that the work eventually becomes free and maintainable by volunteers, even if I get hit by a bus or I go bankrupt

3 Answers 3


As has been stated, you would need legal advice before making a final decision.

Bear in mind that in addition to the possibility of using a licence conditional on date, there is also the possibility of using a licence based on other conditions.

Early in its history, Qt was available under a commercial licence, but with conditions to ensure that it would be made available under the BSD license should no free/open source version of Qt be released during 12 months

Many commercial companies use source code escrow to ensure that they will gain access to source code of closed source software if the company providing the software fails to maintain and update the software for any reason. Similarly source code escrow can be used to ensure source code will be released under an open source licence under such circumstances.


It's surprising really, how many times "you're the owner so yes" is the correct answer...

You're the owner, so you can do pretty much as you wish with it. That does include adding conditions to ensure open source release in the future. However, as always, the advisability of this comes into question.

I'd strongly advise you not to do this alone. Although you may think it's easy enough to just add more text saying "after 20XX you may assume Y license instead", you actually need a lawyer to ensure you're writing legally sound text.

You also want an automated system to release the source code after that date, preferably. This requires careful thought and a security expert: I haven't seen any premade solutions, so you'd be baking your own. And you'd need to make sure that it will only release the code to you, or after the date.


What you need here is a lawyer who can help you draft a license agreement.

The license agreement would give the buyer a propriety license to use your product, and also the right to receive an open license of your choosing at some point in the future.

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