The Eleventh Annual Southern California Linux Expo
February 22-24, 2013
Hilton Los Angeles International Airport

The Affero GPLv3: Why It Exists & Who It's For?


In 2002, Henry Poole of Affero, Inc. urged the Free Software Foundation (FSF) to close what was then called the “Application Service Provider Loophole” of the GPL. It wasn't really a loophole; it just wasn't an issue that was pertinent when GPLv2 was drafted in 1991. In the age of network-deployed online applications, written in a mix of server-side code and client-side Javascript, this so-called loophole effectively makes the GPL the equivalent of the highly permissive BSD-like licenses.

Kuhn originally proposed the idea of quine, a program that prints its own source, be used to create a license with a copyleft clause that addressed the issue. FSF permitted Affero, Inc. to publish an authorized fork of GPL, called the Affero GPL. Since then, network services have become a standard and a very common form of software delivery. FSF's original intention was to include the Affero clause in GPLv3.

During the GPLv3 drafting process, FSF decided to relegate the Affero clause to its own license, in hopes that developers would be drawn to the new license as awareness increased about the behavior of traditional copyleft in network services deployments.

Unfortunately, AGPLv3 has not quickly risen in interest with software developers for various reasons. In fact, AGPLv3 is most commonly used by for-profit companies that seek the strongest possible copyleft to engage in the hoodwink of proprietary relicensing. Effectively, the most common use of AGPLv3 is now, in essence, a corrupted use of the license.

Hope does exist for AGPLv3 and the freedom of network service users. Projects such as GNU Mediagoblin use AGPLv3 in the nature it was intended to build equality among users and developers of network services applications. However, most network services users don't have the freedom to copy, share and modify the software they rely on most. This occurrence has become so common that Kuhn wonders if a dark time lies ahead for the future of software freedom.

Saturday, February 23, 2013 - 18:00 to 19:00