Would closing the ASP loophole create more problems than it solves?

Many of us want to close the ASP loophole to require the Googles of the world to contribute more open-source software. We may not want the consequences of this desire, after all, upon further reflection. It could put a seriously crimp on enterprise adop

I and others have argued that it's critical to open source's future that licenses like the Affero GPL close the "ASP loophole" by requiring companies like Google to contribute back derivative works of open-source software that they distribute as a service, rather than as packaged software. Now Gordon Haff is suggesting that requiring Web 2.0 to Contribute 1.0 may cause more problems than it solves, and he could well be right.

The problem has nothing to do with whether Web 2.0 vendors like Google are required to contribute back. The problem is all the so-called Web 2.0 users:

Distribution in the GPLv2 and GPLv3 licenses draws (mostly) a hard-edged line. If you're an enterprise using software internally, anything goes. If you're using GPL code in software you're selling to the public--whether downloaded, on a CD, or in embedded firmware--you must make the relevant sources available. However, as more and more companies of every stripe make parts of their computing infrastructure available to their customers--think online banking, for example--where does it end? The boundaries become very fuzzy--which would inject lots of uncertainty into just about any use of open source in an enterprise environment.

This is a very, very good point. I'm not sure how to answer it.

On the one hand, open-source vendors might cheer as this should lead to more potential customers buying their way out of open-source licensing terms so as to skirt the need to contribute back. This would apply not only to the Googles of the world, but also the Citigroups that have adopted open source en masse.

It's an open question, however, whether this would result in more open-source adoption or less. Yes, these companies currently buy a lot of proprietary software and so they might simply treat open source as the new proprietary software and buy from vendors able to dual-license them out of uncertainty, but I'm not convinced this would actually happen.

Why? Because open source has become the new innovation platform for enterprises, and most want to experiment before they purchase, if they purchase at all. Closing off open source might well have a dampening influence on adoption, and that is something none of us wants, or should want.

Gordon has a point. Perhaps with the difficulty of directly monetizing pure open-source software will lead us into novel licensing/business models that will prove far more profitable than the traditional software licensing model ever did. Think Google. Think Salesforce.

But perhaps stop thinking about AGPL? I'm torn. What do you think?

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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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