Open-source developers are tired of being taken advantage of by technology giants. Larger companies with practically unlimited resources are swooping into open-source projects, leveraging the work for their own monetary gain, and leaving smaller companies to fend for themselves.
Recently, a group of disgruntled developers and companies took to the Commons Clause as a way to protect their open-source work. However, this caused great controversy within the open-source industry because the clause added restrictions to open-source licenses, therefore violating the accepted definition of open source as well as the guidelines for the Open Source Initiative’s (OSI) approved open-source licenses, according to Vicky Brasseur, vice president of the OSI.
However, another company is coming in to try to address the problem with the creation of a new license. MongoDB has announced the Server Side Public License (SSPL) as a way to continue to make MongoDB publicly available without having to worry about costly litigations or other open-source problems. MongoDB currently offers a free and open-source cross-platform document-oriented database solution. The license will be applied to the company’s community server. Any companies who run publicly available versions of MongoDB as a service or any software under the SSPL will have to either obtain a commercial license from MongoDB or open source the software it uses, according to MongoDB.
“This should be a time of incredible opportunity for open source. The revenue generated by a service can be a great source of funding for open source projects, far greater than what has historically been available. The reality, however, is that once an open source project becomes interesting, it is too easy for large cloud vendors to capture most of the value while contributing little or nothing back to the community. As a result, smaller companies are understandably unwilling to wager their existence against the strategic interests of the large cloud vendors, and most new software is being written as closed source,” Eliot Horowitz, CTO and co-founder of MongoDB, wrote in a blog post announcing the license.
According to Horowitz, SSPL was created as a need to replace or address issues with the GNU APGLv3 (AGPL). He explained this license is currently the best option for open-source companies to license their software; however, it requires a management stack to operate the software as a service and that stack must also be made available under the AGPL.
“This approach was believed to be good enough, as most people understood their obligations to comply with AGPL. However, as AGPL-licensed software like MongoDB has become more popular, organizations like the international cloud providers have begun to test the boundaries of this license. We would prefer to avoid litigation to defend the AGPL but instead devote our time to build great products for the community and our customers,” wrote Horowitz. “The community needs an updated open source license that builds on the spirit of the AGPL, but makes explicit the conditions for providing the licensed software as a service.”
According to MongoDB, the SSPL builds on the AGPL, but is designed to clarify the conditions for providing open-source software as a service. In addition, the license will encompass the same AGPL freedoms such as the freedom to use, review, modify and redistribute the software. “The only substantive change is an explicit condition that any organization attempting to exploit MongoDB as a service must open source the software that it uses to offer such service,” the company explained in its announcement of the license.
The idea of the SSPL differs from the Commons Clause strategy because it is based off the spirit of the AGPL. MongoDB explained that it has submitted the license to OSI for approval, and expects it will meet the open-source criteria as defined by the OSI.
SD Times reached out to the OSI for comment, but had not heard back as of the time of this writing.
The license officially went into effect on Oct. 16. Any MongoDB Community Server patch releases and versions released on or after that date will be subject to the new license, the company explained. This will include future patch releases of older versions.
“We are big believers in open source. It leads to more valuable, robust and secure software. However, it is important that open source licenses evolve to keep pace with the changes in our industry,” said Dev Ittycheria, president and CEO, MongoDB. “We have invested approximately $300M in R&D over the past decade to offer a modern, general purpose, open source database for everyone. With the added protection of the SSPL, we can continue to invest in R&D and further drive innovation and value for the community.”