back to article Open-source developers under corporate pressure to adopt less-permissive licenses, Percona CEO says

Percona’s CEO had taken a swipe at open-source software vendors switching to proprietary or less-permissive open-source licences in an attempt to avoid being run over by cloud giants. Peter Zaitsev said open-source companies are coming under increasing pressure from their boards to bring more software under a closed-source …

  1. Ilsa Loving

    Stupid question

    IANAL so I have no idea how well this would fly, but is it not possible to create a new license that specifically forbids companies that meeting certain criteria from taking their software and reselling it as a could service without compensation? Companies with revenues >$1b or something?

    1. karlkarl Silver badge

      Re: Stupid question

      This would then be a less permissive license than i.e MIT or BSD which is "free for everyone".

      However possibly for the GPL which is already a bit less permissive "if you use it, you must open your source" this could be useful.

      The big issue is we already kind of have that with the AGPL. It says that "if a cloud service uses the code, even if they don't distribute binaries, they must release their source". So this goes a good way to solving this. The problem is that so many people don't use (or know about?) the AGPL.

      I think the FSF/GNU needs to be a bit more forceful and weaponize the free licenses a little more. I am slightly surprised that Richard Stallman hasn't been a little more aggressive in the past with this.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        @karlkarl - Re: Stupid question

        Unfortunately, GPL applies only when you distribute the software. If you only offer a service based on that software you have no obligation whatsoever.

        FSF can not push any further because their intended goal was to make sure end-user digital freedoms of GPL-licensed sotware are preserved. With SaaS, end-user is only consuming services, software remains on provider's side.

        1. doublelayer Silver badge

          Re: @karlkarl - Stupid question

          The suggestion, AGPL, does require that source be distributed when code is used to provide a service, so it fixes that problem. It does not fix the problem which is most often described, because most cloud vendors aren't using the open source projects with a bunch of useful additions they won't give away. Instead, they're using the code almost exactly as you or I could but they make money and don't give that money away. I understand the complaints of the projects who have this happen, but they chose a license which explicitly allows it so I usually can't take their side.

          1. TheMeerkat Bronze badge

            Re: @karlkarl - Stupid question

            The issue with this is that developers will have to avoid use of Open Source libraries that require to distribute the source code even when the library is used in a service.

            So coming up with such will disadvantage you if you are trying to make your new project popular.

            Generally - you can’t compete with those who give out their software for free and without limitations if you want make money out of your Open Source.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              @TheMeerkat - Re: @karlkarl - Stupid question

              You no longer have to give out your software for free : sell the sizzle, not the steak.

    2. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: Stupid question

      "is it not possible to create a new license that specifically forbids companies that meeting certain criteria from taking their software and reselling it as a could service without compensation? Companies with revenues >$1b or something?"

      It's definitely possible and has been done before, but it does not meet the definition of open source or free software and wouldn't get approval from the FSF or OSI. Most licenses deemed not open or free won't get the support of others. Part of the requirements for open and free includes that there isn't a restriction on who can use the software--there must be one set of requirements which applies to all users. Therefore, licenses that say no commercial use, no governmental use, or no military use have already shown that that restriction is viewed as breaking the definition. So you can do it, but it likely means fewer users and contributors.

      1. Graham Cobb Silver badge

        Re: Stupid question

        Exactly. For example, I would not contribute code to software with that sort of licence.

        Sure, I am a child of the 60's (just too late to be a real hippy!) but that is my choice. I choose to make the code I write available under the GPL specifically because I want it to be usable by everyone, without fear or favour.

        Yes, this makes it very hard for open-source-software companies.

    3. Francis Boyle Silver badge

      Re: Stupid question

      Except that they're not "reselling" the software, they're making money providing their customers with convenient access to that software just like the people who used to make money selling distros on DVDs. Legally and practically it's just another commercial use of the software. Certainly we want outfits which make big money using OSS to support the developers, but that applies across the board not just to SaaS companies.

    4. Warm Braw Silver badge

      Re: Stupid question

      The issue here isn't so much individual developers or small projects pursuing an interest, but small companies trying to make a commercial return. Here, it isn't the licence, per se, that's the problem - it's the asymmetry of resources between them and the huge cloud giants.

      If you're a large company and you see technology coming along from a start-up that could potentially generate revenue for you and it's free, you'll just take it. If it's got a development path you might buy the start-up or hire its staff. If the start-up or the staff hold out and it's worth your while, you replicate the technology in house. If it isn't you can find ways to steer customers towards something you have more control over.

  2. Pascal Monett Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    "pressure from their boards"

    This is just Capitalism at work, people. No surprise here.

    What these boards would like is to benefit from actual Open Source, but not have to risk someone else benefitting from their company's work.

    Capitalism : the definition of selfish.

    If you don't want to share the results, don't use Open Source code.

    I'm sorry, even if you're on the board, you can't have your cake and eat it.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @Pascal Monett - Re: "pressure from their boards"

      Oh, I didn't get rich by writing a lot of checks... The Simpsons S09E14

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "pressure from their boards"

      > What these boards would like is to benefit from actual Open Source, but not have to risk someone else benefitting from their company's work.

      The article mentions "trying to blend open source and proprietary models", and apparently having some success. It doesn't mention restrictions on selling a service using the software (which is what I expected initially).

      If a hybrid approach is effective, why not use it?

      1. doublelayer Silver badge

        Re: "pressure from their boards"

        Mostly because it's completely at odds with the ideals of open source. It's not really a hybrid approach, it's pulling the rug out from the users who assumed those freedoms would hold true. Take Elastic's decision. Theoretically, they're still open source since they have a license which is free of cost, doesn't restrict who can use it, and the code can be read. The problem is that their license has been rewritten so that users can't comply with it--it requires a user to license basically everything under that license which would violate nearly every other open license out there. They did that so the only remaining option was to pay them for the rights to ignore that license.

        In Elastic's case, they took that step in order to make it more likely that users would pay them, but they didn't pay any of the outside contributors to the code. In fact, they're now including all of that free code in the product they're charging for. Both changes are legal, but from a moral perspective, those who change the licenses are doing the same thing they didn't like when the cloud companies did it.

  3. Chubango

    I try to give back

    I don't work corporate (thank goodness) but I do contribute to a couple of projects and have written a few simple web things. Whenever possible I try to use one of the licenses demonized by Google:

    https://opensource.google/docs/thirdparty/licenses/#banned

    I don't reckon it makes much of a difference in the long run but it amuses me to think that my code is perpetually radioactive to corporate moochers.

    1. TheMeerkat Bronze badge

      Re: I try to give back

      If your code is “ radioactive to corporate moochers”, it means that it will lose any potential competition that is not “radioactive”.

      It is obviously your choice, but don’t be surprise that your software is not as popular as the “less radioactive” one.

      1. Chubango

        Re: I try to give back

        It really doesn't matter if I'm less popular. The current model for contribution to FLOSS is broken, with larger entities just taking and giving little in return. Here's another article by El Reg that might interest you:

        https://www.theregister.com/2021/05/10/untangling_open_sources_sustainability_problem/

        So between being popular, having the stress of worrying about things work properly, and no help from those who benefit the most versus just maintaining something less popular that forces everyone to share their improvements, I know which one I prefer. In the end I care more about myself and my users, not how widely my software is used and how much it helps corporate bottom lines.

  4. Muppet Boss Bronze badge

    The actual problem

    is that many open source products used to make money and stay profitable by providing commercial support and commercial services on top of the open source offering, and this model was working very well.

    The advance of "as-a-service" business models changed that, now some large SaaS providers are not only freeloaders/leechers benefiting from other's work they got for free and not giving back, they are also direct competitors who lure enough customers from the open source developers with their own integrated offerings to significantly or gravely impact the open source developers sources of revenue. And this is exactly what is becoming a major problem that switching to AGPL alone cannot solve.

    Imho there's no good answer to this situation; unless the large SaaS providers somehow share their profits with the open source projects whose products they offer as a service, there will be a strong incentive to switch to a license that requires the SaaS providers to pay for what they use.

    1. The Griff

      Re: The actual problem

      Yes, this is the core issue. The commercial landscape has changed. OSS developers used to rely on selling support to put bread on the table but the big cloud providers have pulled the rug out from under them

      One solution would be for AWS & co to voluntarily donate funds back to the OSS projects they benefit from. But as a previous poster noted: rich people didn't get rich by giving their money to others...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        @The Griff - Re: The actual problem

        AWS & co ? voluntarily ? donate funds ? Something tells me your post ruined way more keyboards than you might think.

        Once you have their money... you never give it back. -- #1 Ferengi Rule of Acquisition

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @Muppet Boss - Re: The actual problem

      ...large SaaS providers somehow share their profits ? Let's solve the flying pigs problem first. Once we get them in the air at a stable altitude we can then turn to finding a way for SaaS providers to (...guffaw...) share their profits.

      1. Muppet Boss Bronze badge

        Re: @Muppet Boss - The actual problem

        Sure, for the big SaaS monsters it's definitely much cheaper to pay *something* to the open source developers than to develop in-house. Now they get it for free plus integration costs but if shown the middle finger by a few large open source projects, they will sing to a different tune.

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: @Muppet Boss - The actual problem

          But AWS etal do need the stuff the sell as a service to be open source, because they need customers to know about it.

          If AWS offer todays_flavour_of_the_month.js which everybody knows because it's open source and I can hire developers for, while IBM only sells IIIAAS (Incomprehensible Internal IBM Acronym As A Service)

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The actual problem

      There's an almost religious adherence to the existing OSS licenses that have been around for decades that needs to be addressed. Redis Labs et. al were pretty much universally panned many months ago on this very site for daring to modify thier license to protect themselves from being gobbled up by corporate cloud shenanigans.

      The lesson is that things evolve and OSS licensing needs to do the same. Because trust me, many a corporate stooge lawyer has already passed this knowledge on to analysts who created actuary tables a decade ago. These honest engineers never stood a chance.

      1. Roland6 Silver badge

        Re: The actual problem

        >There's an almost religious adherence to the existing OSS licenses

        Yes, everyone seems to be overlooking that what we have is the failure of Stallman's blinked license.

        For open source to survive and thrive people have to be able to make money and earn a living from it, something Stallamn et al overlooked from the very beginning, in part because he didn't earn his living from writing software...

        1. doublelayer Silver badge

          Re: The actual problem

          "For open source to survive and thrive people have to be able to make money and earn a living from it"

          This is going to depend on your definition of open and your proposal for how they're going to make money via license changes. If they change the license such that they can make a user pay or deny them the right to use the software, then I don't consider it open anymore. It would prohibit most of the things that can be done with open source today. It doesn't matter much whether the license used is old or new; it matters what is in it.

  5. Claptrap314 Silver badge

    OSS has won.

    The why are you talking about the issue? Just shut up & let these non-OSS ideas die an ignominious death.

    The reality is, that no one was thinking about *AAS when these licenses were written, and even when they first came out, very, very few of us engineers considered the implications.

    RMS was explicit when he created the GPL: Creators were to make their money by providing services. Okay, but today, that means competing head to head with literally the largest and most profitable companies on the planet.

    The really sad thing is not even the death of these projects. The really sad thing is the ensuing loss of wealth when everything ends up siloed again like it was in the late eighties and early nineties.

    OS, like open standards, is a boon for the industry. The *AAS-holes are drinking the pond dry, however.

    1. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: OSS has won.

      > The really sad thing is the ensuing loss of wealth when everything ends up siloed again like it was in the late eighties and early nineties.

      A lot of wealth was created in the eighties and early nineties, just as there is today, the issue is that the wealth isn't finding its way into the pockets of those who create and maintain the wealth-creating software platform...

      RMS might have been explicit, however, we now know him to have been blinded by his own ignorance.

      1. Claptrap314 Silver badge

        Re: OSS has won.

        Dude, we were ALL ignorant at the time. No one expected the Spanish Inquisition<bs><bs><bs><bs><bs><bs><bs><bs><bs><bs><bs><bs><bs><bs><bs><bs><bs><bs>*AAS model.

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021