After a months-long fight to get a stamp of approval from the Open Source Initiative, MongoDB is withdrawing from the process of having its controversial new software license approved to be called open source.
Back in October, the database company introduced a new, more restrictive software license called the Server Side Public License (SSPL). At the time, it said this license was a measure to protect its business from foreign cloud providers like Alibaba, Tencent, Yandex and Baidu, which have taken MongoDB’s free, open source software and turned it into a paid service for customers.
The license was met with some controversy, with some claiming that it violated a core pillar of open source — that open source software should be available for anybody to use, any way they want, without restrictions, including making a profit.
However, MongoDB has submitted several versions of the SSPL to the Open Source Initiative (OSI), the organization that officially decides what does and doesn’t qualify as open source. Indeed, MongoDB has maintained that the SSPL is still an open source license.
On Friday, however, MongoDB CTO and cofounder Eliot Horowitz officially withdrew the SSPL from the OSI’s consideration process before the group had reached a final decision. He said that while he believes the license still does qualify as open source, it was clear that it wasn’t going to make it through the process.
“We continue to believe that the SSPL complies with the Open Source Definition and the four essential software freedoms,” Horowitz wrote. “However, based on its reception by the members of this list and the greater open source community, the community consensus required to support OSI approval does not currently appear to exist regarding the copyleft provision of SSPL. Thus, in order to be respectful of the time and efforts of the OSI board and this list’s members, we are hereby withdrawing the SSPL from OSI consideration.”
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The future of open source licensing
Horowitz wrote that whatever happens with the SSPL, he’s still heard concerns that there needs to be some change in the open source software industry to address the trend of cloud providers selling open source software — software that was created by other, smaller companies. In a statement to Business Insider, Horowitz refers to this practice as “strip mining.”
MongoDB plans to continue working to improve SSPL, and might consider developing a new license that will be more widely accepted by the open source community, Horowitz said. MongoDB’s database software will still be free to use under SSPL, which means that users can use, modify or distribute the code as long as it complies with the license, which requires some users to release the changes they make to MongoDB as open source.
In the coming days, MongoDB plans to update its website to make it clear that SSPL was not OSI approved.
Horowitz’s statement to Business Insider:
“MongoDB will continue to be successful regardless of how our license is labeled. Because of the freedom that gives us, and our genuine belief in open source, we remain dedicated to establishing a license that is more broadly accepted by the FOSS community while still addressing the growing issue of open source strip mining. This is important to us and we will collaborate with others who share our passion for open source until we get it right. In the meantime, although the SSPL is not OSI-approved, MongoDB users are free to review, modify and distribute the software or redistribute modifications to the software in compliance with the license.”
Horowitz’s message on the OSI license approval mailing list:
We continue to believe that the SSPL complies with the Open Source Definition and the four essential software freedoms. However, based on its reception by the members of this list and the greater open source community, the community consensus required to support OSI approval does not currently appear to exist regarding the copyleft provision of SSPL. Thus, in order to be respectful of the time and efforts of the OSI board and this list’s members, we are hereby withdrawing the SSPL from OSI consideration.
The copyleft provision of the SSPL updates the GPL/AGPL framework to reflect the reality of how modern software applications are built and the software-as-a-service model. While this proposal hasn’t yet gained broad support in the community, we have made headway and learned a lot from our discussions with the OSI, the broader community, and other companies over the past few months since submitting the SSPL. The number of parties voicing concern about the same issue confirm that a new licensing model is needed to address the threats facing those, especially smaller, up-and-coming companies, that want to make significant investments in open source in the modern cloud era.
We have already had several discussions with other stakeholders concerned with ‘SaaS capture’ of innovative open source technology. We are big believers in the importance of open source and we intend to continue to work with these parties to either refine the SSPL or develop an alternative license that addresses this issue in a way that will be accepted by the broader FOSS community.
In the meantime, current and future versions of MongoDB Community will continue to be offered under the SSPL. Over the coming days, we will update the messaging on our website to make it clear that the SSPL has not been approved under the OSI’s definition of ‘open source.’ However, MongoDB remains free to use and source available under the SSPL, meaning users are free to review, modify, and distribute the software or redistribute modifications to the software in compliance with the license.
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