Perhaps this is not the right forum to ask this question but this situation has popped up recently and as the project manager, I am responsible for it.

More than a year ago, we developed an app which uses a library that was created by a third party developer. From the marketplace that it was released, it looked like the library was free. In fact, even looking at it now, it does look free.. except for only one page which says the Enterprise edition is not. This library was downloaded 2 years ago so my developer cannot remember whether those terms were added recently.

It is also not clear on that page what are the limits of the free edition which we are using now. At what point should we have upgraded to the Enterprise edition, I don't know. I cannot tell from the terms on that page. I have encountered other paid libraries that offer similar 'free' (or more accurately, trial) versions. After you reach the limits of free usage, those libraries show a message and no longer works. There is nothing like that for this library.

I've also looked at other libraries and it is pretty clear when a library is free and when it is not. In fact, it's also obvious when a library provides a trial version. However, for this library, the word 'Free' appears almost everywhere except for that one page. It seems almost deliberate.

So here we are more than a year in production with that library. Out of the blue, the developer contacts me and tells me I have to pay for the past usage. However, he tells me that if we sign up for a 2-year contract, out of goodwill the past charges will be dropped. Unfortunately the bill for that contract is a substantial amount.

What is surprising is when I asked him why is that for more than a year we weren't informed about this, he refuses to give me an answer. I am sure he wouldn't need a year to realise that we have exceeded the limits of the free edition of his library. Especially when he could tell me the precise usage of the library from the first month the app was launched, and that within that month we had already exceeded the limits.

What is best course of action to take? Our client is the actual user of this app and they will decide whether they will pay for this contract. I have a strong feeling they will rather do without the feature that the library provides than pay such a high fee. In that case, can the developer legally ask me to pay for the past usage?

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    Licensing and other types of legal advice are not within the scope defined by our help center. Consult an IP or contracts attorney within your jurisdiction.
    – Todd A. Jacobs
    Commented Mar 2, 2016 at 3:50
  • Did you check the license that was packaged with the original download? Maybe that would shed some light on this conflict? Commented Mar 2, 2016 at 9:48
  • Are you sure you want to be using a library that sends such detailed usage statistics to its developer? (Or that has any type of backdoor???) Commented Mar 2, 2016 at 9:49
  • @CodeGnome - I'm not asking for legal advice (hence my uncertainty on whether to post this question here), I was curious as to what other PMs would do if facing such a situation. I have to be fair to my company, my client and of course, the third-party developer if he is 'right'. Furthermore, I'd like learn how to avoid such a situation again in the future.
    – Barry A.
    Commented Mar 2, 2016 at 16:53
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    @DannySchoemann Unfortunately, my developer can no longer find the original download. You are right. I definitely do not want a library that sends any information that I am not aware of without my permission to any third party. Thanks for the insight.
    – Barry A.
    Commented Mar 2, 2016 at 16:55

1 Answer 1


You do not indicate whether you have alternative libraries to use. This is important because it affects your leverage to negotiate good terms for your customer. If you have alternatives, then approach your existing library owner and negotiate the best terms you can while, concurrently, make those alternatives more real so you have the option of walking away. Once you have a good agreement, either with the existing owner or a new one, then you can pass a good agreement over to your customer.

In all cases, ignore a retroactive charge. When that topic comes up, say in the scenario where you end up choosing an alternate, tell them to sue you for it. If they offer a trial version, it is on them to "stop" the trial and then proactively charge you. If they failed to do that, then they essentially are giving it away for free. They will not likely prevail in a suit; they are not even likely to bring the suit.

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    The final paragraph sounds like legal advice which, as well as being location specific, is also out of scope for this site. Commented Mar 1, 2016 at 17:10
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    If my paragraph sounds like legal advice to you, you need a new lawyer. Commented Mar 1, 2016 at 17:26
  • Thanks for the advice! Yes, they are alternative libraries. However, I didn't think that was relevant because I am sure the client will simply want the library to removed (because the feature it provides is not critical).
    – Barry A.
    Commented Mar 2, 2016 at 16:47

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