My point of view about the OpenERP relicensing

Hello everybody,

I will now tell you about the subject of the last week: The addition of an exception in the OpenERP AGPL license, potentially allowing to avoid the redistribution of source code through the purchase of an OpenERP Enterprise version.

So like everyone else in the community, instantly I was shocked:

-We create some kind of a dual license, which is our worst fear: SugarCRM, Pentaho, Magento, etc … most of the popular business free software also have in parallel an enterprise version which means that not all efforts are made to improve the free version and often even limiting the efforts of the community. This is one of the main power of OpenERP now than not falling into this trap and it’s a very, very bad news to see that begin to rears its ugly head.
Ok so we are assured that the Enterprise version has nothing to do with the other double licenses, that all the modules continue to be dismissed AGPL, don’t act I return to it later in this post. Nevertheless, the name is very scary.

-We can also read the fact we can, against some good cash, purchase the right not to redistribute the source code. No really need to be a fan of conspiracy theories to immediately imagine arrangements between OpenERP SA and large companies to make some breaches against the GPL’s garantees and thus those protecting the community and users.

This is what comes to mind when OpenERP SA presented its new offer, and that is why the debates have been particularly virulent last week about this. I myself began to fear that a significant part of the community begins to turn to Tryton.
But when we analyze in detail the offer, we realize that it is not necessarily so bad thoughts, to understand where I’m going let me go into detail *GPL license.

The first license *GPL , I will move quickly on it because it was never used by OpenERP, and also the least restrictive is the LGPL. It is used primarily when the license of software needs to be compatible with proprietary code while being able to protect by the GPL guarantees the software itself.

The GPL is the basic license approved by FSF and one of the most restrictive. Sometimes excess according to some people because you can not use GPL software with other proprietary code. You have an obligation to redistribute the source code if you make a modification to the software, but however you can create an extension as an OpenERP module without having to publish as you use it privately. OpenERP remained long in GPL V2 and then in GPL V3 when this version was released.

Still, the GPL failed to give guarantees with the SaaS. You could take for example the OpenERP code, create useful modules, and on that basis make an SaaS offer without having to publish the source code of your modules. I call that an opportunistic SaaS offer obviously wrong in light of the spirit of free software.
This is to compensate for this scenario that the FSF has created the AGPL license. The principle is simple: You can request the source code of any software you use, even if it is used across the network. Note the size difference between the GPL and the AGPL: If we place ourselves in business context, this means that even employees or partners with limited access to the ERP can request the source code of the company’s OpenERP, including modules developed specifically for it and only used privately.

OpenERP is licensed under the AGPL since last year. It was obviously necessary to avoid opportunistic SaaS offers I mentioned and that could appear very quickly. Imagine you take the code OpenERP, develop a vertical integration, for example services companies and sell all without having to redistribute your work. I can imagine how these opportunists could appear in a few years on the back of OpenERP so it was obviously a necessity.

And so now OpenERP SA receives requests from companies wishing to protect their private modules (which can often reflect a unique way of working to the company and does not want to give to the competition). On which OpenERP SA meets today with the AGPL exception.
This exception says that if the client company pays the enterprise version, it may not give the source code of its modules to private users but must make if it distributes copies (especially if he tries to sell them) returning immediately under the terms of the classic AGPL. For me it is neither more nor less than selling the right to use the GPL instead of the AGPL.

And for once I will not plant a knife in the back OpenERP SA: I agree with them. For me, both GPL and AGPL protect the interests of the community, with the exception of opportunistic SaaS offers for GPL. I see no problem in allowing the companies to use private module, it’s fully in the spirit of free software, it has been like that throughout the GPL period of OpenERP and I would even say that simply forbid it as the AGPL actually unserve the interests of OpenERP and community.

But where I find really interesting the choice of OpenERP SA is that they have managed to find an economic model (the fact to charge companies that want to protect their internal working methods), equal (not all companies will need such protection, and those who need it can pay for it) and especially with the only difference between the paying and non-paying users is … just impose even more restrictive license about the free software guarantees, via the AGPL license for non-paying users. Users who pay will have a GPL equivalent already properly protecting the interests of the community and non-paying users whose the only restriction is to be forced to publish the source code for its employees and partners … It’s brilliant, just brilliant.

Since I started on OpenERP, I feared that OpenERP SA is finally forced to adopt a dual license in order to survive, I have seen throughout the period struggle to come to find a viable business model but respectful of the community. When this exception appeared, I thought, like many others, they had mainly started throwing in the towel and move to a dual license, however, finally … it seems on the contrary they have actually managed to find the economic model they were looking for. Personally I therefore support the idea, and I think it is incredibly original.

Now consider the various scenarios:

1) The case where an unscrupulous company is developing a module and then tries to sell it without redistribute the source code. This case should in my view not be possible without violating the spirit of free software.

2) The case where a client company wants to develop a module for internal use only. The company should have the opportunity, so free or paid, to retain full intellectual property of the module without publish it to its employees and partners. This does not violate the spirit of free software.

3) The case where a client company wants access to a module. It is my opinion that is respected the spirit of free software if he has free access to the source code for all modules developed by the publisher, by an integrator which bases its services above and those used in a SaaS offering. They did not necessarily have access to a module only used internally in another company.

4) The case where an unscrupulous company develops a module for an SaaS offer based on it without having to redistribute the source code. This case should in my view not be possible without violating the spirit of free software.

OpenERP under GPL licence:

1) Case impossible without violating the license

2) Possible case without license violation

3) The client company has no access to modules of an unscrupulous SaaS offer.

4) Possible case without license violation

OpenERP under AGPL licence:

1) Case impossible without violating the license

2) Case impossible without violating the license

3) The client company has successfully access to all modules.

4) Case impossible without violating the license

OpenERP under AGPL + exception. The company which is mentioned in the case purchased the enterprise version.

1) Case impossible without violating the license

2) Possible case without license violation

3) 4) I’m not sure … I’m looking at the text of the exception, what OpenERP SA offers to the users with the Enterprise version is the right not to redistribute the source code to users over network, without any other restriction. That’s too close to the GPL to prevent opportunistic SaaS offers to appear, they would then just buy the Enterprise version … OpenERP SA needs to be much more explicit on this point, and explicitly specify that the exemption is void if access to ERP is paid in any way (I think of SaaS opportunistic offer as well as to a company that would charge an option to its clients for accessing their invoices on the ERP of the company, in this case the code must also be redistributed).

Moreover, there are two problems with the implementation of this license, I’ll just mention them quickly:

-There are still many people in the community, holding some copyright on the code of OpenERP, who refuse to allow the transition to the new license. In response OpenERP SA wants to rewrite their contribution which is obviously an insult. I find this regrettable, even if ultimately the idea seems good OpenERP SA wanted to push through and the result is climbing. OpenERP SA MUST NOT rewrite these contributions, they have tended to be too closed in on themselves which is not healthy for a free software (I have already sufficiently expressed my opinion on the fact OpenERP SA should make a much better use of the community contributions). I encourage everyone to talk responsibly about the subject, if there is a reluctance on the side of the community, suggest and ask for guarantees.

-Some community members have highlighted the fact that the modules AGPL is not compatible with AGPL + Exception. It would be obviously a huge problem, but my limited legal skills do not allow me to make more comments on the subject.

In conclusion, my opinion is that I support the new license, provided that the opportunistic SaaS offer is explicitly banned from the exception, and congratulations to OpenERP SA for finding this business model.

PS: I invite you to read this excellent post on the same subject: http://www.qmuxs.com/version2beta/2011/a-new-openerp-product-and-license/.

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