Six years under the AGPL

/by @apr thinking out loud/

We moved jPOS to the AGPL license about six years ago, in hindsight I’d like to share my thoughts about the move.

  • The AGPL is a good license, perfect for our project, if people were to read it.
  • It is based on the honor system, but nobody cares about honor these days unless honor is enforced someway or another.
  • My perception is that for a large number of developers, OpenSource is the same as Free Software, Apache license is the same as GPL, LGPL, AGPL, MPL, Potatoes, Potatos, same thing.

We used to sell commercial licenses under the jPOS PEP which is a combination of license+coaching/hand-holding. Participants get it for the hand-holding part, they rarely care to get a signed agreement, we need to push to get them signed. [UPDATE: we are not accepting new PEP members as of August/2010] We have some true license purchases, those come either from large companies with large legal teams reviewing every license or from companies being purchased/merged doing due-diligence procedures

The downside of a license like this is IMHO:

  • People not willing to release their code under a compatible license (that’s probably 100% of our users) and not willing to purchase a commercial license (that’s about 99.96% according to our guestimates) feel guilty and go dark, never participate, never contribute code, and limit themselves to ask questions under public e-mail addresses with lots of numbers in it. They know they are free riders and nobody is proud of that, so they hide.
  • Some open source power users and projects know the license is somehow restrictive, so if they can, they avoid it.

So my belief now is that the AGPL just slows down a project like ours. It’s probably perfect for a larger organization with the ability to go to the street and enforce it, but this is not our case, we don’t have the resources nor the willing to do so. That said, it’s still the best fit for us, so we’ll stick to it for the time being.