Licensing · Open source

What are some good recommendations and resources regarding open source licensing?

Jesse Chen

June 3rd, 2015

We're currently exploring releasing our software as open source. This would definitely be a shift for us, so we're looking to do some homework and I couldn't find any relevant previous discussions here on FD.

We want to 1) enable others to contribute to our code, 2) keep some level of control over the overall product's vision, and 3) avoid creating a competitor for ourselves. We'd like to be a "single vendor commercial open source" product with a freemium / consulting-based revenue model and so we're specifically looking at the AGPL license, but also considering a dual-licensing strategy. Has anyone had any experience with the "single vendor commercial open source" approach with the AGPL license or has any specific/trusted recommendations of where I can learn more (in layman's terms) before speaking to a lawyer? Thanks!

Matt Filios Growth Catalyst

June 3rd, 2015

Hi Jesse,

Moving to a commercial open source model is definitely a shift, and also can be a great move. I have worked with a number of proprietary software companies who i assisted in the successful shift to that model. It helped them from a revenue growth standpoint as well as code generation (contributors). It all starts with proper licensing and building a strong community in my opinion. 

I'd be happy to share more of my experiences if you want to hit me up outside of this thread. 

Ryan Long Author and Tech/Media/Design Attorney

June 3rd, 2015

Jesse,

Please reach our if you want to have a consult about open source licenses. I've had a great deal of experience with them. 

Cheers, Ryan.

Ryan 

David Schwartz Multi-Platform (Desktop+Mobile) Rapid Prototyping + Dev, Tool Dev

June 3rd, 2015

Can you cite any examples that exist in the market that are currently using the business model you're suggesting?

Rastin Mehr Hackerpreneur, Early Stage Startup Advisor

June 3rd, 2015

Put the code on GitHub, provide detailed installation and configuration wiki pages. Provide code examples on how to build a simple extension or customize the theme. 

Publish content on what sort of problems your technology can solve. 

Don't worry about project forks and competitors. The chances of them happening is very small and even when they do, the chances of them surviving is very small. If you do a good job of contributing and maintaining your repository, you will always remain the upstream repository. An open source technology is more than just the codebase. It is the sum of creators, their vision, the community around the project, clients, reputation, history, etc. It is very easy to fork a codebase, but very difficult to fork a project. If you are constantly evolving and innovating, you will always be ahead of the game.

Rastin Mehr Hackerpreneur, Early Stage Startup Advisor

June 3rd, 2015

MySql case was different. If most of the contributors have been from the community and you decide to take control and monetize their work, a fork is very likely going to happen. But if you have been the primary contributor to the project, the community will recognize you as the authority and leadership behind the project and if you do a good job nurturing that community, you may get a lot of support and contributions as well.

Brian Reale CEO / Founder ProcessMaker

June 4th, 2015

Jesse,

I run an open source BPM/Workflow Software company called ProcessMaker (www.processmaker.com). We use the AGPLv3 license.

We had 3 employees in the company in 2006 when we were selling a proprietary version of our software. We open sourced the code in 2008.  Since then our software has been downloaded 750,000+ times, and we are just over 100 employees in the company.  In short - for us it was a very good move.

However, that was 2008.  The world was a totally different place.  I would not make that same choice today if I were starting an enterprise software company.  

A couple more thoughts:

1) I wouldn't worry about a competitor forking - that will not be your problem
2) If you choose AGPLv3, you will probably also use a Dual Licensing model if you ever want to be a software company and not a consulting company
3) You would probably need to be a consulting company for a few years before becoming a software company if you want to have a community
4) 99.999% probability you will not get any meaningful code contributions if you use the AGPLv3.  And 100% probability that it won't happen for a few years.  
5) Look hard at whether or not a cloud based model wouldn't give you the same benefits of a freemium model that you are looking for - there are lots of reasons for this that are well known in open source circles.  Most of my colleagues that started companies around open source enterprise software are now selling cloud software.
6) If your market is North America or Europe and you are building enterprise software, go cloud and forget open source.

Don't waste time or money with lawyers discussing license options.  This has much more to do with a business model choice.   I'm happy to discuss more with you, if you would like.  

Jesse Chen

June 3rd, 2015

Thanks for the quick reply, David. From what I have learned, it seems that MySQL, OpenBravo ERP, Magnolia CMS, and Alfresco DMS are all examples of success with the single-vendor commercial open source approach... Some others have tried, but they were not able to keep the developer community happy and so the projects were forked and competitors arose.

David Schwartz Multi-Platform (Desktop+Mobile) Rapid Prototyping + Dev, Tool Dev

June 3rd, 2015

MySQL ... no. It was forked to MariaDB by some of the original developers. Oracle's purchase of the commercial business end of MySQL hasn't helped, either.

There are lots of politics that seem to develop around significant open source projects. Just say'n.

You might want to contact the head guys of those projects you cited and see what they think of your idea.

Jesse Chen

June 3rd, 2015

That's great feedback - thanks, everyone!  I will connect with you Matt and appreciate your offer!

David Fridley Founder at Synaccord

June 3rd, 2015

SIPX and the SIP fountry open source software has a long history of originally being developed by a startup (pingtel.com) and then going open source, and then being bought by Nortel, and then spining out again.

You might want to talk to https://www.linkedin.com/in/msteinmann who knows more about this. 

They had a well written open source license.