AGPL Gets OSI Blessing

by Ostatic Staff - Mar. 17, 2008

Despite continued infighting between the Free Software and Open Source communities, the OSI has blessed the new AGPLv3 license.

Late last week the AGPLv3 license (Affero GNU Public License) formally completed the OSI’s (Open Source Initiative) license review process. The AGPL license differs from the ubiquitous GPL license in a number of important ways, the biggest of which closes the so-called “ASP loophole”.

When modifying a GPL licensed package, the organization or individual modifying the package must share the source code of their changes if they redistribute the software. The original GPL never accounted for the fact that SaaS (Software as a Service) providers like Google and Amazon would be able to modify GPL licensed software and keep those changes secret while charging people to use services built on those GPL packages.

The main motivation behind the AGPL is to close the “ASP loophole” in the same manner that the move from GPLv2 to GPLv3 was motivated by the perceived need to close the “Tivoisation loophole”. Tivoisation is the term coined to describe TiVo’s processes of using digital signatures to ensure that no one could load non TiVo approved code on a TiVo box. This meant that even though TiVo boxes ran modified GPL packages, the source code of which TiVo made available, users could not modify the TiVo software and get it to run on the TiVo hardware.

Both GPLv3 and AGPL have stirred up much controversy. Both are the indicative of the theological divide between the Free Software movement and the Open Source movement. These are two camps with similar ideals and goals, yet fundamental differences that separate them. As with any theological debate, rhetoric is often at odds with coexistence, cooperation and advancement. Richard Stallman, the director of the FSF (Free Software Foundation) and the chief evangelist for GPLv3 and AGPL is well known for his rants against the Open Source movement.

I’m sure the idea of having FSF licenses seek approval from the OSI makes Stallman nauseous. I noticed that it wasn’t the FSF that requested OSI approval for AGPL, but rather Funambol, an early AGPL adopter which guided AGPL through its approval process at the OSI.

As in the Sunni – Shiite divide in Islam, the split and infighting between the Free Software and Open Source communities does not help either group achieve their individual goals and further interferes with them being able to achieve their common goals.

The current FOSS (Free and Open Source Software) licensing models are a mess. Stephen O'Grady at RedMonk points out that releasing software under multiple licenses is becoming a common occurrence. This is not a good development for those of us seeking wider adoption of FOSS software at work, school and our friends’ homes. The complexity, uncertainty and compliance issues caused by the proliferation of FOSS license types help no one.

Do you think this will affect FOSS adoption?