Subject: Re: The GNU AGPL and Free Software Businesses
From: "Michael R. Bernstein" <>
Date: Wed, 12 Sep 2007 13:18:11 -0700
Wed, 12 Sep 2007 13:18:11 -0700
On Wed, 2007-09-12 at 12:34 -0700, Thomas Lord wrote:
> Dual licensing is one proprietary software strategy to exploit that
> problem with AGPL.   There are other strategies.   For example,
> a blog service might strip down its software a bit, offer an AGPL
> version, and then collect improvements without any obligation
> to distribute their own improvements.

The only way that works is if copyright on the improvements is assigned
back to the company.

If a company acts in a way that parasitizes or abuses the trust of the
community, a fork is always a possible remedy.

> Companies could also release AGPL programs for more subtle strategic purposes --
> for example, in order to create demand for some other, back-end
> proprietary web application without having to pay too much
> to develop a front end and without accidentally creating a
> competitor with hostile proprietary control over the front end.

Certainly. And if that proprietary back-end tech is protected by
patents, then forking the front-end to target an alternate Free Software
back-end may not even be possible. This is really a patent problem. This
strategy isn't limited to web applications of course, but it is still
uncommon to the point that I can't think of a successful example
offhand. In any case, a front-end app that *requires* a proprietary
back-end isn't compatible with the GPL or the AGPL.

A more interesting twist is if the front-end is AGPL, and the back-end
is GPL... The AGPL front-end would require the distribution of the
version of the GPL-licensed back-end actually deployed behind the
front-end, but there can be *other* GPL forks of the back-end in use
that are not subject to that same requirement, and can have their own
dual-licensing arrangements.

Anyway, absent the 'proprietary back-end' wrinkle, releasing Free
Software equivalents to a competitors' proprietary offerings is of
course a reasonable and known strategy.

Do any other strategies occur to you?

- Michael R. Bernstein

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