To LGPL or not to LGPL

by Amir Shevat


Lately we have been getting feedback from users of our open source product, MantaRay, saying that our open-source license is not very business friendly. Our product is a serverless messaging middleware, in other words MantaRay is a JMS provider. Applications import our manta.jar and work with it as if they had a messaging server (broker) while actually they are working purely peer-2-peer. All the logic that was in the server is distributed and embedded in the edge applications.




MantaRay is released under the General Public License (GPL). GPL is contagious, meaning that if you embed a GPL library in your code you must release your own code under the GPL license as well. The situation is different when your code is decoupled from the GPL code; if your application is decoupled from the GPL code then you do not have this constraint. Take sugarCRM for example, it utilizes a GPL Database called MySQL but is released under the Mozilla Public License. It is up to the user that uses sugarCRM to install and configure the MySQL DB.




Some of our users are saying that GPL libraries are not really useable because of this viral nature of GPL, they suggest that we release MantaRay under the LGPL license which is a more business friendly license for Java libraries. On the other hand GPL is by far the most popular open-source license. Moreover, an interesting article by one of the people in the Free Software Foundation suggests that “Proprietary software developers have the advantage of money; free software developers need to make advantages for each other. Using the ordinary GPL for a library gives free software developers an advantage over proprietary developers: a library that they can use, while proprietary developers cannot use it.”, I guess this is not a clear-cut decision.



Should Open source Java libraries be released under the GPL license?


8 Comments

Garidan
2005-11-03 08:27:22
LGPL : L is for "library"
The answer is simple:
a) you don't want commercial apps use your code (or you want to earn money by double-licensing) -> use GPL
b) you want commercial developers to contribute your development with code, bug fixing, docs -> use LGPL.


I think double licensing (GPL + commercial) is against the spirit of open source and I don't rely such projects to be open source in the future too.


That's My Umble Opinion

ShawnD
2005-11-03 10:14:47
What about Universities?
Many academic institutions will not allow GPL even though they develop and distribute open source software.


LGPL allows them to use the free libraries...

aristotle
2005-11-03 14:38:25
Re:
How can they not be? If the developer decides to shackle the software, the previous version which were available are still free. If there is a community, it can decide to fork the project based on the last GPLed version. This is the very meaning of “free software” – the users cannot be locked out of the product they were relying on. By noone.
adrianh
2005-11-04 03:22:51
What about Universities?
Many academic institutions will not allow GPL even though they develop and distribute open source software.


Is it really "many"? Is that a US thang? Not something I've noticed here in the UK. How strange.

billburke
2005-11-07 08:07:34
misconceptions
What a lot of companies don't understand is that FSF-based licenses are only triggered when the binaries are distributed. So the vast majority of software projects are not affected by GPL/LGPL.
hubbard
2005-11-08 05:15:18
GPL business unfriendly?

I don't really understand how using the GPL is being business unfriendly. Are these companies willing to pay for a license? The GPL is really a way for a developer to get paid for their work. You're saying, "I've spent a lot of time writing this software. You can use this but only if you're willing pay me by opening up your software. My time is valuable, I've shared part of my value with you."


Perhaps you should look at the dual-licensing aspect. Tell them that they could pay a $1000 per per CPU core to use the code when they deploy. Would that be businesss unfriendly?


To say that the GPL is viral is really a wrong statement. The developer knows that they're getting GPL code. They must abide by the terms. You have to do this with commerical software also. So what's the big deal? A virus is something that you pickup involuntarily.


Using GPL code is not involuntary. A decision was made to use it. If you don't like it don't use it. There are others that are willing to develop the code for a monetary price.


2006-05-03 05:55:56
Bill Burke has a point - for in-house commercial development (i.e. developing a software system that never leaves company premises, but earns serious money, i.e. some bulk data processing distributed cluster facaded by a web service to which paying customers connect), GPL is perfectly okay, as GPL only says that you must provide the source code to whoever you give the binaries. If you never give your binaries out, you're GPL compliant. An open source license conforming the OSI definition must not prohibit commercial use - see point 6 under http://www.opensource.org/docs/definition.php, and GPL certainly doesn't prohibit it.

2006-05-03 05:57:43
Bill Burke has a point - for in-house commercial development (i.e. developing a software system that never leaves company premises, but earns serious money, i.e. some bulk data processing distributed cluster facaded by a web service to which paying customers connect), GPL is perfectly okay, as GPL only says that you must provide the source code to whoever you give the binaries. If you never give your binaries to anyone, you're GPL compliant even if you keep your source code to yourself. An open source license conforming the OSI definition must not prohibit commercial use - see point 6 under http://www.opensource.org/docs/definition.php, and GPL certainly doesn't prohibit it.