back to article Fed up with cloud giants ripping off its database, MongoDB forks new 'open-source license'

After Redis Labs relicensed the modules it developed to complement its open-source database, from AGPL to Apache v2.0 with a Commons Clause, the free-software community expressed dismay. And, inevitably, some responded by forking the affected code. Today, the maker of another open source database, MongoDB, plans to introduce …

  1. LDS Silver badge

    GPL & C. were thought before the "cloud"....

    They believed people would have kept on distributing software, not selling services.

    But starting more or less with Google, someone understood they could offer services without distributing software, or just a little part of it - so they could modify it without any need to distribute the changes also.

    So I fully understand MongoDB and others - now if you like open source, you have to open source the code you use to sell your remunerative services built on that open source.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: GPL & C. were thought before the "cloud"....

    Are you sure Google is a good example of this? Google has developed code and shared many (most?) of the improvements. In terms of MongoDB and Redis, I believe it has its own in-house alternatives developed prior to these offerings so the need to share these is an internal decision rather than a licensing requirement.

    The targets are those that benefit and provide nothing back. Of the names listed, I'm unsure if licensing changes will have any effect on that...

  3. LeeE Silver badge

    Re: GPL & C. were thought before the "cloud"....

    "So I fully understand MongoDB and others..."

    I agree with Paul Berg's thinking on this: "Open source and libre software doesn't require you to give back to the community, it allows you to do so unimpeded. The rationale for these new licenses seems to me to be something different."

    And what that different thing seems to be, at least to me, is that after using the free/open source model to gain market-share and dependence they've decided that now that people are making money [from their s/w] they want some of it.

  4. LDS Silver badge

    "Open source software doesn't require you to give back to the community"

    Are you sure? Most licenses I've seen ask you to make your changes available - while GPL forces you to give back all of your code if you ever use something GPLed in it. Of course if you "distribute" it, but that was the main business model when those licenses were enacted. I believe the "internal use" exception came from university environments where giving out ideas about ongoing researches wasn't much appreciated.

    While open source supporters always pointed out open source model was not about giving away code without making money, that "free" was the source code availability, not the application itself. Otherwise, after all, how could developers survive?

    Now someone is asserting is good to reap someone else's open source code to make a lot of money, and giving back none? Fear of angering some prospect employer? How many would think twice to publish open source project that could now be easily used by AWS, Azure, Google to make tons of money, and nothing for the creators?

    PS: I had to delete "libre", because, sorry, I can't match that word to freedom when it was used by one of the worst dictatorships in the usual Orwellian doublethink. Using it, some open source supporters just show they would like a dictatorship, obviously the one run by them.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: "Open source software doesn't require you to give back to the community"

    "While open source supporters always pointed out open source model was not about giving away code without making money, that "free" was the source code availability, not the application itself. Otherwise, after all, how could developers survive?"

    Try emailing Stallman and ask his opinions about commercial use of the FSF's software. Or the community of people still releasing under the old LGPL and the current BSD licenses (and distributions). Two totally different approaches that clearly believe in free distribution.

  6. LDS Silver badge

    "Try emailing Stallman and ask his opinions about commercial use"

    I think there's not need:

    https://www.gnu.org/licenses/gpl-faq.en.html#DoesTheGPLAllowMoney

    I think many didn't understand at all what open source means. Too many thinks it's only "software you don't have to pay for" - but it's not that.

    Developing software costs money - if no one pays, open source can become only the by-side product of something else that pays for development costs - and, believe me, that means that it is actually far from being free, because other interests will drive its development - and you could already see it in many open source projects that are far less versatile than they should be.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: GPL & C. were thought before the "cloud"....

    Mongodb is way too slow and limiting for many things anyway. For example DocumentDB is an order of magnitude faster with server side JavaScript and index queries and retains ACID transactions.

  8. LeeE Silver badge

    Re: "Open source software doesn't require you to give back to the community"

    @LDS: I think you're trying to read more into the GPL than is actually there.

    "Most licenses I've seen..."

    The GPL licenses (2 & 3) are specific and not open to modification: all of the GPL licenses that you've seen will be identical (within the type: 2 or 3). There's no scope for 'Most licenses I've seen...' in the context of the GPL Licenses.

    "GPL forces you to give back all of your code if you ever use something GPLed in it"

    The GPL only requires you release 'your' code if you are distributing modified GPL'd code; it does not require you to do anything at all if you just use GPL'd software; the organisations that are being targeted by MongoDB are not distributing modified GPL'd software; they're just using GPL'd software to distribute their own data.

    "I believe the "internal use" exception..."

    There is no "internal use" exception in the GPL because there are no usage restrictions in the GPL, other than from the penalties resulting from the distribution of modified code without the accompanying source code modifications.

  9. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

    Re: GPL & C. were thought before the "cloud"....

    starting more or less with Google, someone understood they could offer services without distributing software

    "Starting more or less with Google"? True, I suppose, for vanishingly small values of "less".

    Timesharing systems, BBSes, Service bureaus... People have been offering software-as-a-service since at least the 1970s.

  10. monty75 Silver badge

    This sounds almost exactly like the "viral GPL" FUD that MS used to spout in the early 2000s: use open source software in your stack and your application becomes open source too.

  11. monty75 Silver badge

    Also: the blog posting at MongoDB suggests that they've chosen this path rather than try to enforce the AGPL through litigation. That being the case, how do they propose to enforce this new license?

  12. el kabong

    The new license makes it much easier for them to litigate and win

    So, "how do they propose to enforce this new license?"

    If needed they will use litigation, of course. but they will do it on terms that are much more favorable to them.

  13. monty75 Silver badge

    Re: The new license makes it much easier for them to litigate and win

    I could have been clearer in my question. The full quote from Mongo's blog is : "The SSPL clarifies the conditions for making MongoDB publicly available as a service, to ensure we can continue to invest in building MongoDB for our users rather than in costly litigation over enforcing the AGPL."

    Surely it'll be just as costly whether they're enforcing the AGPL or their own slightly modified AGPL? I don't read their new section as being any clearer only more expansive.

  14. cs9

    Re: The new license makes it much easier for them to litigate and win

    The new license tactic Mongo is trying is viral to the software deploying the MongoDB code in a way the AGPL is not. The essential viral element of AGPL is that you cannot improve the product privately within the private boundaries of your service. AGPL is not triggered if you don't improve the AGPL product.

    Example: Currently you can buy MongoDB on AWS (that is the product's name) which is plain vanilla unmodified MongoDB hosted and managed for you by Amazon and you pay Amazon by the hour. MongoDB the company sees not a dime of this, it all goes to Amazon. Amazon is in complete compliance with the AGPL, they are not touching the codebase so there is nothing to contribute back. This diverts quite a bit of business away from MongoDB Atlas, the cloud product developed and maintained by MongoDB the company.

    Now the SSPL:

    "What's different is Section 13, which says that if you offer SSPL software as a service, you have to make available not only the software source code and modifications, if any, but also the source code of the applications used to run the service."

    Amazon's product is mostly driven by CloudFormation and MongoDB may attempt to make a case that if Amazon continues to offer the product "MongoDB on AWS", they must also provide the source code to CloudFormation, something Amazon certainly will not do.

    Whether this is the intent or whether SSPL is enforceable in this way -- I don't know. The question about boundaries is a good one and I'm sure there are plenty of other practical challenges to enforcing this license. For practical purposes though MongoDB will attempt to enter into a licensing agreement with Amazon and the other clouds to allow them to continue offering the products as-is using the SSPL as an implicit threat.

    It also seems clear that this will be a growing trend among the open source players and we can expect similar moves from companies like Elastic, Databricks, and anyone else whose work earns Amazon boatloads of money for little or no effort.

  15. LDS Silver badge

    "viral GPL"

    GPL is designed exactly - and explicitly - that way. Other Open Source licenses are not.

    If you're using GPL code in your applications, distribute them, and you are not making the source code available, you're breaking the GPL license - and I know there are many around who do exactly that, while blabbling about the advantages of Open Source - forgetting to explain what "advantages" mean to them - and only them...

  16. monty75 Silver badge

    Re: "viral GPL"

    FYI, this is what I was referring to https://www.theregister.co.uk/2001/06/02/ballmer_linux_is_a_cancer/

  17. PowerBenny
    WTF?

    Open Source FUD

    Section 13 seems pretty clear in scope to me:

    "If you make the functionality of the Program or a modified version available to third

    parties as a service, ..."

    So providing I do not make this available to third parties then I can deploy the community edition of Mongo DB to AWS and use it for myself without fear of entering into the scope of this clause. I don't see how this can be read in any other way, but of course, IANAL.

    Disappointed to see Open Source advocates stooping to the FUD-based practises of Microsoft et al from the early noughties. :-(

  18. rfrovarp

    Re: Open Source FUD

    Yourself is a mighty small userbase.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Open Source FUD

    Or AWS (or any other cloud provider) could buy a license and then this doesn't apply.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Open Source v Open Projects

    Remember, MongoDB the company own the copyright for MongoDB the software. They set the direction of the project, decide what gets built and, crucially, are not bound by the same "open" licensing terms as their competitors.

    A project is not truly open source unless it is owned and run by a neutral, third party foundation tasked solely with technical governance and stewardship. Mongo, like Neo and like so many others, is only really a published source project. You have no say and you only have as many rights as they're willing to give you at the time.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Open Source v Open Projects

    > A project is not truly open source unless it is owned and run by a neutral, third party foundation tasked solely with technical governance and stewardship.

    You've obviously drunk the kool-aid of some such organisation.

    One problem with such organisations is that over time, they tend to become corrupt, political, and then ineffective (potential examples, the ASF, and the Linux Foundation).

    Projects "Owned" by such an org can't then escape without forking, further damaging their communities.

  22. LDS Silver badge

    "A project is not truly open source unless it is owned and run by a neutral, third party foundation"

    So, where's "freedom"?

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Do you think the Chinese will really care?

    Seriously, the Chinese rip off intellectual property right and left for their own advantage. They will simply ignore any such conditions in any such license if it is to their own advantage.

  24. Claptrap314 Bronze badge

    Re: Do you think the Chinese will really care?

    True, but I think this article is talking about multinationals operating in China. Of course, the same legal cutouts used for tax purposes will tend to shield the operators.

  25. Paul 14

    shareback not cashback

    An intent to get cloud providers to share back mods and enhancements is positive. However, an intent to strongarm cloud providers or anyone else into coughing up cash is a disingenuous use of OSS. If you want to sell software, keep it closed source proprietary and sell it; OSS should not be used as a gimmick for financial gain, however big and wealthy the targets are. It corrupts the whole concept.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: shareback not cashback

    Or if you want a commercial operation setup a split foundation, where the commercial rights can be assigned to one arm, but the source, trademarks and legal rights are held by an independent foundation. That way if the commercial entity goes bankrupt/evil the community and it's contributions are still secure.

    Imagine if Java or OpenOffice had been setup that way when Sun open sourced them.

    This looks like another case where a commercial startup has payed lip service to open source during their startup phase and then pulled a bait-and-switch once they hit scale.

  27. gerdesj Silver badge

    Some do give back

    ... just not in the way you'd like.

    Yandex sponsors the Clickhouse database system which is quite a beast and open source. https://clickhouse.yandex/

  28. Corporate Scum

    Blindsided, and re-licensed at gunpoint?

    Switching base licenses retroactively by changing it in the patching train is, as far as I know, unprecedented. Putting someone else in the situation of not being able to deploy a hotfix in production or changing contractual term at gunpoint is not something we should speak of lightly, or kindly. In going after some large, and potentially bad actors, they are pulling the rug out from under their broader user base. The choice of rolling yet another one of license isn't going to help either, as it will cause a trainwreck for anyone who was integrating code from other projects that had previously compatible licensing with copy-left obligations that require releasing code under a compatible GPL license. The article 12 clause seems to preclude a pretty broad swath of similar licenses, including the AGPL, and anything that has a rights assignment for enforcement(Like the rest of the current GPL family)

    I suspect that people in the NodeJS community, especially meteor may freak out over this, and probably have the developer pool to support a fork at least long enough to force an embarrassing walk back in a few months.

    This is the sort of shoot from the hip, knee jerk response that makes a companies management look green. This is something that should have been preceded by a ton of community engagement, not just dropped out of the blue in a blog post.

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Blindsided, and re-licensed at gunpoint?

    > This is the sort of shoot from the hip, knee jerk response that makes a companies management look green.

    Hopefully not. It seems well structured to hit the intended target. The unintended targets (as you mention) could be interesting, but time will tell.

  30. ~mico

    Re: Blindsided, and re-licensed at gunpoint?

    I am not even sure a critical security-related bugfix can be copyrighted, let alone forced under a different license. Might be considered a case of fair use.

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If you give it away for free...

    ..stop looking surprised if someone else gets rich off the back of selling it.

  32. JLV Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    https://www.mongodb.com/licensing/server-side-public-license

    Seems worse than GPL and AGPL, where you can use software, as long as do it across process boundaries and don't link to it. I.e. you can run GPL mysql without any worries. And only the bits that were linked to the GPL code needed publishing.

    The REDIS spin was much more forgiving and likely more pragmatic as well. Only some particular value-added modules were shoved under their new license. I use REDIS and see no problem with that at all, it's a reasonable compromise between openness and paying the bills.

    REDIS aside, never been a big fan of Mongo and NOSQL and this won't be changing my mind. Basically I fail to see what use case you would have, as a for-profit entity, for running the risk of using it with the new license. Perhaps if only your data is something you need to keep to yourself?

    13. Offering the Program as a Service.

    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, under the terms of this License. Making the functionality of the Program or modified version available to third parties as a service includes, without limitation, enabling third parties to interact with the functionality of the Program or modified version remotely through a computer network, offering a service the value of which entirely or primarily derives from the value of the Program or modified version, or offering a service that accomplishes for users the primary purpose of the Software or modified version.

    “Service Source Code” means the Corresponding Source for the Program or the modified version, and the Corresponding Source for all programs that you use to make the Program or modified version available as a service, including, without limitation, management software, user interfaces, application program interfaces, automation software, monitoring software, backup software, storage software and hosting software, all such that a user could run an instance of the service using the Service Source Code you make available.

  33. andy bird

    so any host offering apache / nginx (should they go the same way) will have to cough up?

  34. LordHighFixer

    THere should be a way

    To say, here is my source code for widget, have fun with it. If you use it for educational or bug fixes and make it better, please include the source. If you make a derivative work, and charge for it, I want royalties, if you incorporate it in to a product and make money, I want a cut.

    I mean seriously, if you code a better mouse trap and give away the plans for individuals, that is ok, but if a company takes your plans and produces them en masse, or includes it their master trap program, you should get paid.

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