Does a license change to an open source component affect old versions?

Sometimes, an open source project decides to change its license. It happens rarely with a community open source project; it happens more often with a commercial open source project when the vendor is trying to generate customers from users. Does the license change affect past open source versions?

Fortunately, if the license of the old software version is a proper open source license, the rights grant stands in perpetuity and cannot be revoked retroactively. This in-perpetuity requirement is baked into the definition of open-source software licenses by the Open Source Initiative. So you just have to make sure that the open source components you are using have indeed a proper approved open source license.

It does not follow, though, that you can use the new versions of the software under the old license. If the project relicenses, you have to review the new license and only if acceptable to you, should you upgrade from an old to the new version of the software. Such relicensing appears almost inevitable today with commercial open source, as vendors are headed for payday.

Feel free to send in any open source licensing questions you might have or participate in our seminar on license-compliant delivery of products that contain open-source software, up next on July 21st, 2023!


Free weekly industry insights from the world of open source, in three paragraphs or less. Most Tuesdays, always 4pm CET, by Prof. Riehle.

Join 8 other subscribers