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Open Source databases to cloud vendors – get forked!

Open Source software vendors are starting to fight back at what they perceive to be the misuse of their products by global cloud providers. Sick of other companies using freely available software to make money, certain vendors have introduced to license types to put a stop to it.

Redis

Redis Labs, the open source database company, have changed the licensing of several of their modules – moving from the AGPL (Affero General Public License) to Apache V2 with Commons Clause license.

The change is in retaliation to the practice of cloud computing vendors charging for hosted versions of open source software. Redis Labs feel that “cloud providers have been taking advantage of the open source community” by using open source code such as Docker, Hadoop, and Redis to create millions of dollars of revenue, to the detriment of the open source community. Redis believe it hampers creativity and advances in the open source world, as people are unlikely to spend time developing the software so large organisations can earn more money. I am also sure that, to some degree, there is annoyance in seeing an industry giant such as Amazon make large profits using your technology.

What does this change mean?

The change is aimed at preventing cloud companies, such as AWS, from profiting by simply hosting or re-badging Redis modules in their environments.

Yiftach Shoolman, CTO of Redis Labs, says organisations can continue to “build internal, external and commercial products on top of our modules and sell those, but cannot directly sell the original modules” while the Common Clause license terms state it prohibits a company:

practicing any or all of the rights granted to you under the License to provide to third parties, for a fee or other consideration (including without limitation fees for hosting or consulting/ support services related to the Software), a product or service whose value derives, entirely or substantially, from the functionality of the Software”

I’m not sure those two statements align –organisations will surely be wary of building commercial products on top of Redis modules with the potential ambiguity of “substantially” in the terms.

The change applies to Redis modules including Redis Graph, ReJSON, and RediSearch; the Redis Core will remain under the BSD license. The new terms don’t apply retrospectively but new updates and releases of the affected products will be under the revised license.

Reaction

As The Register reports, many people within the Open Source community are unhappy with this move, saying it moves the software from being open source to being proprietary software. It will be interesting to see what the cloud providers do next – will they abide by the new license terms, continue their current practices and challenge the license in court, or “fork” the code and create their own version/s of the open source software?

In fact, that third point – the concept of “forking” the code – has already happened. The GoodFORM project – Free and Open Redis Modules – has been set up primarily to allow Debian and Fedora Linux distributions to continue shipping the Redis modules.

MongoDB

The makers of MongoDB, another popular open source database, have also changed their licensing to address the same problem as Redis. However, rather than adding in the Commons Clause to the free edition of MongoDB, they have created the “Server-Side Public License” (SSPL) where Section 13 states:

“If you make the functionality of the Program or a modified version available to third parties as a service, you must make the Service Source Code available via network download to everyone at no charge”

And goes on to clarify that “Service Source Code” means:

“management software, user interfaces, application program interfaces, automation software, monitoring software, backup software, storage software and hosting software”

With the ultimate goal that:

“a user could run an instance of the service using the Service Source Code you make available”

Meaning end users who are so inclined could replicate the entire hosted offering for themselves.

It is important to note that the new SSPL license terms will apply to patch fixes for prior versions of the software

According to The Register, the CEO of MongoDB – Dev Ittycheria – specifically called out Alibaba, Tencent, and Yandex as organisations selling services based on the free community edition. This change impacts only the free version, organisations who have purchased a commercial license for MongoDB are unaffected.

Conclusion

The cloud has come along and changed so many things in the world of IT and software – some for better, other for worse. It’s interesting to see the open source companies starting to fight back against the cloud providers and particularly for them to do so via license terms.

What’s next? Will it strengthen the position of open source in the market or will it eventually lead to it being weakened, and perhaps see corporations effectively take ownership of leading open source elements? Could the large cloud providers create their own version of the code and use their vast resources to attract people towards updating that, rather than contributing to the community editions?

It will be fascinating to see what this means for cloud services, open source programs, and license terms across the industry.

Further Reading

Redis blog – https://redislabs.com/blog/redis-license-bsd-will-remain-bsd/

Redis licenses – https://redislabs.com/community/licenses/

Affero GPL – https://www.gnu.org/licenses/why-affero-gpl.html

Commons Clause – https://commonsclause.com/

BSD license info – http://oss-watch.ac.uk/resources/modbsd

GoodFORM – https://goodformcode.com/

MongoDB Server Side Public License (SSPL) – https://www.mongodb.com/licensing/server-side-public-license

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About Rich

Rich has been in the world of IT and software licensing since 2003, having been a software sales manager for a VAR, a Microsoft licensing endorsed trainer, and now an ITAM analyst looking at software licensing and cloud.

A Northerner renowned for his shirts, Rich is a big Hip-Hop head, and loves travel, football in general (specifically MUFC), baseball, Marvel, and reading as many books as possible. Finding ways to combine all of these with ITAM & software licensing is always fun!

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