A cure for the "cancer within open source": the OSI approves the Affero GPL

One of open source's biggest failings has been to extend its relevance into the Software as a Service world. The OSI has finally corrected this with the approval of the Affero GPL.

One of open source's biggest failings has been to extend its relevance into the Software as a Service world. The OSI has finally corrected this with the approval of the Affero GPL.

Fabrizio Capobianco, CEO of mobile open-source company Funambol, has been the most ardent crusader for development and approval of a license like the AGPL. In a blog posting, he talks through the importance of the AGPL, and identifies perhaps its biggest opponent: Google.

In GPL v2, those who ran open source software in a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) environment, and modified the open source code, were not required to return the changes back to the community....For me, this has always been one of the worst risks for open source oblivion. If you can take and you do not give back, defeating the copyleft concept, you kill open source. The ASP loophole is the cancer of open source....

Now we just need developers to understand that using GPL v3 instead of AGPL v3 is just dumb. Your software is going to be used as a service, if not today, in a few years. Yes, YOUR software. Everything is going to be used as a service, even word processors... They can take it and do not give any changes back to your community.

Google's strongest argument against the AGPL was that they "simply wouldn't use code licensed under the AGPL" if people restricted (opened up) their code under a SaaS-savvy copyleft license. For those of us who believe the SaaS world should play by the same rules as everyone else, this was a cause for celebration, not alarm.

Eben Moglen gave a fascinating keynote at last year's Open Source Business Conference, advocating that developers shouldn't become someone else's "free lunch." He made the point that copyleft licenses like the GPL ensure that developers and their downstream adopters meet on equal terms under such licensing.

Finally, that's true again. About time.

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About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.

     

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