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A project (desktop app) that I've been using for a while has decided to go closed source. I fully respect the decision, but also have no interest in the direction where this new development is headed. As such I've become curious about making a fork of the project.

Looking at the last version of the code available, I saw the license is AGPL v3. Reading up on it - it sounds like it's something that is used with very specific intent: Open Source + vendor lock-in. (see http://www.dr-chuck.com/csev-blog/2014/09/how-to-achieve-vendor-lock-in-with-a-legit-open-source-license-affero-gpl/)

Now, the project went from MIT -> AGPL when I assume, the author decided to prepare the move. This is when the cloud functionality started appearing in the app.

If I was to fork the project from the last code point - the only license available to me would be AGPL?

If I understand this correctly, now any new changes on my fork cannot be incorporated by the now closed source project - because it is closed source? Even tho it was the original AGPL project.

For me, one of the deciding factors for choosing the application was the fact that it was Open Source. I'm just trying to make sure I understand the situation before taking any action.

  • Is there a CLA (contributor license agreement) on the open source version of the project required for contributing to it? – Brandin Nov 27 '19 at 8:40
  • When was it MIT licensed and when did it change from MIT to AGPL? – Brandin Nov 27 '19 at 8:42
  • If you fork it and add code to it, then under what license (e.g. MIT, AGPL) are you planning to license your contributions? Which one you pick for your contributions will affect the answer (how and if they can take your changes and put them in a closed source product). – Brandin Nov 27 '19 at 8:43
  • A CLA was added the same time as the move to AGPL as far as I can see. The move to AGPL was around 10 months ago - not sure how that helps tho. I was thinking of keeping the licence AGPL. – Ascalon Nov 27 '19 at 10:45
  • Looking at this, two more things might be of interest here: 1. In the readme, it says that the author considers the project from a certain version up "Not open-source", even though it still has AGPL as the license file. I assume since they are the author if it says so it is the way it is. I would need to fork the last version considered AGPL. 2. The code was removed from master but is in the repository. No more new code is added to this repository. Forking would happen from a previous commit in all cases. – Ascalon Nov 27 '19 at 11:56
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If I was to fork the project from the last code point - the only license available to me would be AGPL?

I will assume that "the last code point" refers to the las commit that is positively identified as being open-source and under the AGPL license.

Technically the answer is no, but practically it is yes.
Technically, you can provide your modifications under any AGPL-compatible license, as long as the fork as a whole gets distributed under the terms and conditions of the AGPL. In practice it is not really workable to have different contributions under different licenses unless those contributions are in clearly separable parts, like libraries.

If I understand this correctly, now any new changes on my fork cannot be incorporated by the now closed source project - because it is closed source? Even tho it was the original AGPL project.

If your contributions are under a copy-left license (like the GPL or AGPL), then that code can not be included in a closed-source project. It does not matter at what time your contribution was added or what licenses the project previously had. If the following conditions are true, then that is a violation of the copyright license:

  • You provided a contribution under a copyleft license (e.g. AGPL)
  • You did not grant additional rights to apply a different license (e.g. via a CLA)
  • The project now uses a license that is incompatible with the license of your contribution.

As a side note, the Open Source + Vendor lock-in trick described by Dr Chuck in your link can only work if the company offering the AGPL+proprietary product owns the full copyrights to the AGPL code or the AGPL and proprietary parts are carefully crafted that they work together but are not considered derivative works even under the strict interpretation that the FSF uses for that.

If you are the sole copyright holder, you are not bound by any licensing terms, so you can offer your software under a incompatible set of licenses.

If the various parts are considered independent works (no derivatives), then their licenses don't affect each other.

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