Evolution of open source licenses

2020-12-12 2 min read

    Open source changed the way we write code. It’s given many of us a starting set of tools that allowed us to quickly put together new products and allowed us to specialize. These days open source is as strong as ever but there are a lot of changes happening on the licensing side. Under the older open source licenses, any company could take your code and then launch it as their own service. This wasn’t a problem in the past due to a highly fragmented market and trusting the developer to provide the gold-standard enterprise service but the rise of the cloud providers changed the dynamic. They have the scale to both build the expertise but also to lock-in customers.

    This is not a great solution for those that have put years into open source and want to profit from it. Luckily there are a few approaches to push back against the cloud providers. One is simply to have multiple licenses - an open source one for either internal or community use and a separate paid one for an “enterprise” offering. There are also quite a few licenses, categorized as “copyleft” that propagate their license to any code that’s derived from that work. An even more recent license is the Business Source License (BSL) where the code starts off as being open-source for non-commercial use but then after a set period becomes truly open source.

    I’m far from a lawyer and there’s significantly more nuance to the above but there is a trend to allow open source code authors to monetize their work. The problem they’re trying to solve is a real one but it’s difficult to predict what impact it will have on future contributions.