The GNU Affero GPL (GAGPL) Version 3 and the companion Affero GPL version 2 licenses released last week provide for public access to source code (modified or not) running on a network server. The current GPLv3 license does not cover this specific scenario, hence the new license version.To give an example, if you are browsing the latest hosted social media application and it displays the GAGPLv3 license, you should be able to locate and download the source code for the application you are using. You might have to pay a fee — remember the “free” in free software means freedom to copy, not the price — but you will have the source with the modifications to use as you see fit, subject to the other stipulations in the license. As developers adopt this license, will it cause web sites to rethink dependence on open source components?Palle Pedersen’s blog post “Is AGPL (Affero GPL) the Doom of Google?” has a lengthy analysis of the issue. He notes:
A wide adoption of the AGPL would change a current standard practice for creating a web application, where the developers start with a few pieces of GPL software and then modify the software until it suits their needs. With AGPL software in the mix, a business decision would have to be made on whether to use AGPL software and make source code for modifications and additions available – or to avoid AGPL software and spend more time developing software which can be kept out of the hands of competitors and potential hackers.Larger companies, e.g. Google and Yahoo, are actually among the best positioned to live in this new world. They can carefully evaluate the trade-offs on a case-by-case basis and can introduce processes to make sure that AGPL code does not sneak into places where it should not be.
It will be interesting to watch the rate at which this new license is adopted. One source for tracking open source license adoption rates is Black Duck Software’s Open Source License Resource Center. Read the Free Software Foundation’s announcement of the new license here.