Let's slip into the role of your customer...
So you've finally found an app for your business in the app store. It's being developed by an aspiring developer who somehow happens to know exactly what you need. Sure, the app has some rough edges, but after you give him some feedback it gets better and better. You decide to buy the pro version with an annual fee, and you integrate all your workflows in the app. Everything's great!
Some years later your business relies completely on this app, but suddenly you receive a letter from the developer:
as you might have noticed, there have been no updates for the app in a while. The reason is that I've lost interest, so I've decided to abandon it.
So long, and thank you for the fish!
Your aspiring developer.
Oh shit! You immediately contact him in order to convince him to continue supporting your beloved app. You even throw cash at him, but to no avail. He says he just landed a job at Google, something with AI, and has no interest anymore to solve your worldly problems.
You keep using the (now unsupported) app, but after upgrading your Mac to Catalina it doesn't work anymore. You're afraid you have to close your business.
Enough role-play. Maybe some of us can relate to the developer in this example and say that this customer was crazy to build his business on an app from a single developer. Or maybe some of us think that the developer acts irresponsible and selfish.
We don't have to pick sides, we just have to accept that situations like these happen and useful or even important software gets abandoned. These situations can easily be resolved if the app was open source - the customer can just pay some other developer to migrate the app on Catalina. But not every developer wants to publish his apps under an open source license. Monetarization might indeed be a problem if you cannot rely on making money with support and services alone. But whatever the reasons might be - the developer is the author, and copyright law grants him to choose whatever license he wants. Then the software lives with its license happily ever after. End of the story.
...or maybe not?
The company I work for has licensed a lot of closed source software. Our lawyers address the risk of losing software support with a paragraph like the following one, which is put in all software vendor contracts:
In case of bankruptcy the vendor must provide the source code of the licensed applications in complete and compilable form.
That seems to be a reasonable solution. However I'm not sure if my employer can really exercise this claim. The software might be composed of different parts, for which the vendor might not have the rights to give others the source code.
Anyhow - here we see a customer's effort to get control over the software's source code when the vendor cannot support it anymore.
Musicians are paid royalties for the songs they've written or performed. This is a perpetual revenue stream that can (and should) last the whole life of an artist in order to prevent him from poverty. In many countries royalties even continue after the author's death - 50 year, 70 years, maybe even 95 years after his death and are being paid to his descendants. But then the exclusive rights of the author ends and the song enters public domain, which is pretty similar to open source.
So music might be timeless, but copyright enforces "open source" after quite some time. The time of course is very, very long, but music is timeless. Software is not.
I think it's time for a law that enforces the end of a closed source license - a law that automatically enforces its release under an open source license for circumstances that factually end support, e.g. when a software developer loses interest, when a software vendor goes bankrupt, or when a (single) developer dies.
What do you think of such a law?
P.S.: In my article the term "open source" is used synonymously for free software.