[License-discuss] Intimacy in open source (SSPL and AGPL)

Lawrence Rosen lrosen at rosenlaw.com
Fri Jan 18 22:32:43 UTC 2019

There is a lot of recent news about the SSPL license reactions by Red Hat
and OSI and others. FWIW (despite the fact that I don't use MongoDB), I
agree with their decisions to forego MongoDB software because of its
overbroad "copyleft" and "corresponding source" SSPL license requirements.
Requiring licensees to disclose the source code of much of their other
networking software is a burden too painful.


But I also understand and appreciate the MongoDB business case dilemma. If
they just give their software away without some copyleft conditions for free
network use, they will not profit much from it.


SSPL and that MongoDB issue is not a unique situation. There is also a lot
of AGPL license resistance by licensees for many of the same reasons of
"overbroad copyleft" and its definition of "corresponding source". I asked
Bruce Perens and John Cowen about it privately. They reminded me of the
Oracle v. Google case, where various courts had various opinions about
whether APIs (and thus the interactions among software components) could be
"fair use" or could alternatively require copyleft and licensing. This was
recently described on the OSI license-discuss@ email list as "Intimacy in
open source," quoting the AGPL and the GPLv3 discussion drafts. I'll suggest
instead that all software (especially open source software!) is intended to
be intimate with other software, and thus the word "intimate" is both
overbroad and completely vague. So is the phrase "corresponding source."


Bruce pointed out that we should consider instead the "intent" of the
license authors, rather than focus on vague words like "intimacy." The FSF
has written volumes about its GPL and AGPL copyleft requirements. We think
we know their intent.


I like his word "intent." It is an important word in law and with software
licenses. But in civil litigation or criminal cases, "intent" can't be used
vaguely, or the defendant won't be convicted. Licenses and laws should say
exactly what they mean. 


So, if our community can come up with an adequate definition of
"corresponding source" (or "intimacy") in the open source software context
to enforce the intent of our network services copyleft licenses, I'm all
ears. Neither SSPL nor AGPL currently meet that clarity requirement.




Lawrence Rosen

Rosenlaw ( <http://www.rosenlaw.com/> www.rosenlaw.com) 

LinkedIn: LawrenceRosen

3001 King Ranch Rd., Ukiah, CA 95482

Cell: 707-478-8932 

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