We’re busy preparing to launch LingPipe 4.0. We’re leaning toward switching from our “unauthorized” Alias-i Royalty Free License (version 1) to the GNU Affero General Public License (version 3) (AGPLv3).
The motivation for our license was very similar to Affero’s. Affero, the original license developer, wanted to close the so-called “Application Service Provider (ASP) loophole”, which didn’t count running software as a service as redistribution. Thus application service providers (ASPs) may run Gnu Public Licensed (GPLed) software as a service without distributing their software own software linked to it. The AGPL is stronger (i.e. its viral license is more contagious) in that it considers service providers to be distributing the software.
We’re neither lawyers nor software freedom fighters (though I am getting tired of all this software patent nonsense). The motivation for our royalty-free license was partly to prevent potential paying customers from running LingPipe on proprietary data, while keeping the system as “open” as possible, especially for research and teaching purposes. Our business model was thus something like MySQL’s business model. Here’s a nice survey of open-source business models — we’re a mix of 3, 4, and 5, plus 1 if you count DARPA/NIH grants as donations/subsidies.
Check out Bruce Perens‘s quite sensible review of the plethora of OS licenses: How Many Open Source Licenses Do You Need? (Spoiler: Perens, who wrote the original version of OSI’s Open Source Definition now thinks 4 are sufficient; I suppose you can’t blame a computer scientist for generalizing!).
We’re wondering what the ramifications of a switch to AGPLv3 would be. On the upside, we will potentially attract more users and perhaps even developers by having a license that plays nicely with others (specifically GPL and Apache/BSD). We also think it may be more attractive to funding agencies, like NIH. On the downside, we’re worried it may adversely affect our ability to sell our software, or perhaps even the business as a whole.
Are we crazy, or should we have done this ages ago?