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Crowdfunding Joplin Server license?

As some of you know, the Joplin Server license is different from the rest of the project - it's a "Free for Personal Use Only" license and it disallows commercial use.

The issue is that it's been written by myself (not a lawyer) and when it comes to licenses it's hard to tell if it's valid or not. Meanwhile people contact me now and then as they essentially want to run a Joplin Cloud clone, making a nice profit while I'm doing all the work for free.

So to make sure the license is solid, I've contacted a few lawyers to get a quote and it would be something like $400 to $500. Unfortunately that's quite a lot and more than I'm willing to pay, especially since I don't benefit from it - I'm only making the server available in the spirit of open source (even though it's not FOSS) but if I have to pay for it that's a different story. For me it would be free to just take the source code offline.

Because of that, I've thinking of perhaps crowdfunding the license? That's probably a bit unusual but it makes sense since it means anybody who's interested in self hosting Joplin Server can contribute a bit. Once we reach $500, I get a lawyer and we have something solid that really allows anyone to self-host while preventing businesses from cloning Joplin Cloud.

What do you think? Do you think there would be some interest in this? If so any suggestion on what platform could be used?


I don't suppose there are any other open source applications that take the same approach to look at what has been done before?
Whilst I'd love for everything to be FOSS I completely understand where you are coming from. I imagine you are going to get some church of Stallman fanatics moaning about it somewhere along the line but the fact that it is still being provided so that it can be self hosted is all I (and probably most people) could possibly want.
If you do go this route is it worth considering the potential of licencing agreements for hosting companies if it gets popular enough that some serious metal needs to get behind it? Not for current consideration but for baking into the licence ahead of time.
As for a method of getting money to pay for it, what about the "bounty" approach - offer up some non-essential but desirable features for voting from the community as a goal?

Isn't them contacting you the point of the current license? Make them some custom terms that involve them having a license to use it commercially for x years for y cut of the profits, and then you're not working for free.

I'm not saying the current license couldn't use a touch up, or that it's not worth having a lawyer to draft any commercial terms, but I think you need to properly evaluate whether other hosts are actually competition, because they don't necessarily need to be. You don't need to have the one license to cover everybody, and there might be more gain in getting a product out there to attract more people, a smaller cut of a bigger pie might be better than a bigger cut of a smaller pie.


I see it similar as jc. If one wants to run a commercial Joplin Cloud instance, charge 10%-15% what they are making. Or whatever you think is fair amount. You could add code to the Stripe part that would automatically deposit X% to your account. If there's no positive response from your stripe account, the rest of the transaction will be canceled.

I think there are ways to create deposit only keys in Stripe or accounts that only allow to deposit but nothing else. But it's something you could look into.

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Unfortunately I couldn't find any when I searched for it. Actually I was thinking that if we go ahead with this crowdfunding, the resulting license text could be put into public domain. I think there are indeed other projects that might want to do something similar and hiring a lawyer is not realistic in many cases.

I'm not sure that would work. So far we didn't have any good results with bounties for this project.

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As for licensing to other companies, I haven't looked into this yet but it could indeed happen. Of course I need to be relatively careful with this as a poorly managed Joplin Server instance for example could corrupt notes and when there will be a problem users will come here (like they do for misconfigured Nextcloud servers, etc.), so it will be an additional maintenance burden. So yes, if that happens the conditions should be well defined and it probably means I'll need another lawyer.

But I feel that's a different story anyway. My main goal at the moment is to have a good "free for personal use" license. Licensing to third parties is independent from this.


As someone who is using Joplin Server for personal use, and benefitting from it, I would be happy to contribute


I use Joplin Server for personal use and I also will be ready to contribute


Happy to contribute!

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Hi, I've been lurking for a while, using Joplin for personal notes. I've recently started using a self-hosted server, so I'm still getting familiar with things.

Can I ask for a bit of detail when you say "I'm only making the server available in the spirit of open source (even though it's not FOSS)".

My reason for asking - there are many free/open source organisations that may be able to provide legal assistance for working out the right license to create.

I'd be very happy to see Joplin server licensed as open source, and if it wasn't I'd still be happy to contribute to a fund to get legal assistance for license creation.

The issue is that I want to keep some level of control on Joplin Server. This is because I offer Joplin Cloud and established companies could also easily offer such service (because I make it easy to install it). I cannot really compete with them - they would have an existing infrastructure, financial means, and employees to get things going quickly and possibly for cheap. I have none of this.

So we'd end up in a situation where I'm working on Joplin Server and it's companies that don't contribute much or nothing that would benefit from it.

Maybe I'm miscalculating here, it's a complex problem - but while considering options, I don't want Joplin Cloud clones to pop left and right without any control. That would be a significant burden for us in terms of support (because their users will come to us for support, no to them), it would water down the "Joplin brand", and it's not clear how the project or myself would benefit from this.

Using a restrictive license allows me to work on it at my own pace, and ensure I can preserve certain standards of quality and reliability. The easy thing for me to do would be to take out the source code offline but I still want to allow people to self-host for their own personal use, as that seems like a reasonable use-case. And that's where we need a lawyer - to write down a proper license that allows this, while disallowing commercial use.


I'd pay the whole lot if I could get a little part of the company :grinning:

You might say commercial use for Joplin Server is forbidden, but non profit organization could use it for free.

So you could purpose a fourth cloud plan “Joplin Cloud Hosted”. You could put their brand from any company and website on it and you sell it for 500-1000, 1000-2000 users…
The company could make profit linking it to their own website selling it with a higher price.

Yes I'd be fine with a non profit org using the server too, and I suppose they wouldn't be considered commercial anyway so the license style we're discussing would work for them.

They can also get a Joplin Cloud discount actually, which maybe would be cheaper for certain organisations (because no need to have a sysop on retainer).

With my daughter going to law school, the phrase that comes out of her mouth most often is "words matter". Lawyers are very good at using contracts to their benefit so I completely see the need to have a lawyer write up a contract to protect you, your time, and your product. A couple bad "Joplin" servers out there can wreak havoc on you. I use WebDAV hosting, but this is an amazing product and I'd be willing to chip in some money to help out on the lawyer fees. Heck, if everyone that used this donated $1 you'd have the money several times over. Wikipedia does a once-a-year donation request to cover their costs, I don't see this as an odd request at all.

I do agree that any corporate licensing should come with a payment clause for you since they would be using your product in a way you haven't seen and/or imagined. I'd probably also throw in there some verbiage about any features they want will be done at a charge for them, but available to the general product. That's a completely different discussion than the one at hand though.

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I think that you have to protect Joplin Server from any kind of non-personal use. It would be great if Joplin would generate enough income for a fulltime job :slight_smile:

I have sone thoughts:

  1. It should be impossible for anybody to use the Joplin name and logo, because they are your intellectual property, right? Not sure if they are trademarked as well.
  2. How big is the risk of competing services really? New users will find Joplin Cloud or use Dropbox etc., not some random service which they have to find first. Users who already use Joplin will not just hand their sensitive notes to a random sync service to safe a few bucks.
  3. Moreover many people talk a lot about offering a service, but will they really do it? Its a lot of work to setup payment, servers, website, test everything etc.

I think the risk is not as big as you think, but anyway the license should protect you and your business model.

Have you looked at the licences that MongoDB, Elastic Search and other Open Source projects use to fight AWS and other cloud service providers? They fit your requirements, so perhaps you could use one of these licences and save some bucks. This blog posts gives a nice overview as well, a common clause could work.

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That's the part I don't know actually. Maybe it would be fine as you say, or maybe there's something we haven't thought about and that would the project troubles, so that's why I prefer to play it safe.

I've looked at them but none of them quite worked for that particular case.

I totally agree with you and would play it safe as well. I just hope that this scenario (a competing service) never comes true, because that would be a lot of trouble. If the other licenses don’t fullfill the requirements a crowdfunding is a great idea.

At this moment in time I am only a test user. However I do appreciate your challenge (and your effort) and I am absolutely willing to contribute a fair share if such a funding action comes alive.

Perhaps using "reciprocity" licenses, and/or the kind of things "coopyleft" is doing : en:license [CoopCycle] ?

Here are 2 different takes on this topic (in french - perhaps DeepL might help english readers) :