The SSPL is Not an Open Source License

We’ve seen that several companies have abandoned their original dedication to the open source community by switching their core products from an open source license, one approved by the Open Source Initiative, to a “fauxpen” source license. The hallmark of a fauxpen source license is that those who made the switch claim that their product continues to remain “open” under the new license, but the new license actually has taken away user rights.

 

The license du jour is the Server Side Public License. This license was submitted to the Open Source Initiative for approval but later withdrawn by the license steward when it became clear that the license would not be approved.

 

Open source licenses are the foundation for the open source software ecosystem, a system that fosters and facilitates the collaborative development of software. Fauxpen source licenses allow a user to view the source code but do not allow other highly important rights protected by the Open Source Definition, such as the right to make use of the program for any field of endeavor. By design, and as explained by the most recent adopter, Elastic, in a post it unironically titled “Doubling Down on Open,” Elastic says that it now can “restrict cloud service providers from offering our software as a service” in violation of OSD6. Elastic didn’t double down, it threw its cards in.

 

And the software commons are now poorer for it. The Elastic projects were offered under the Apache license. Outside contributors donated time and energy with the understanding that their work was going towards the greater good, the public software commons. Now, instead, their contributions are embedded in a proprietary product. If they want to enjoy the fruits of their own and their co-contributors’ labor, they have to agree to a proprietary license or fork.

 

This is not to say that Elastic, or any company, shouldn’t adopt whatever license is appropriate for its own business needs. That may be a proprietary license, whether closed source or with source available. The Open Source Initiative strongly believes that the open source development model is the better way to develop software and results in a superior product. But we also recognize that it is not the right choice for everyone in all cases. A company may find that its business needs and direction have changed over time, such that the original license choice is interfering with their business model. A switch may be the right choice. 

 

But Elastic’s relicensing is not evidence of any failure of the open source licensing model or a gap in open source licenses. It is simply that Elastic’s current business model is inconsistent with what open source licenses are designed to do. Its current business desires are what proprietary licenses (which includes source available) are designed for.

 

What a company may not do is claim or imply that software under a license that has not been approved by the Open Source Initiative, much less a license that does not meet the Open Source Definition, is open source software. It’s deception, plain and simple, to claim that the software has all the benefits and promises of open source when it does not.

 

Signed,
The OSI Board of Directors

To promote and protect open source software and communities...

For over 20 years the Open Source Initiative (OSI) has worked to raise awareness and adoption of open source software, and build bridges between open source communities of practice. As a global non-profit, the OSI champions software freedom in society through education, collaboration, and infrastructure, stewarding the Open Source Definition (OSD), and preventing abuse of the ideals and ethos inherent to the open source movement.

Open source software is made by many people and distributed under an OSD-compliant license which grants all the rights to use, study, change, and share the software in modified and unmodified form. Software freedom is essential to enabling community development of open source software.