Redis Labs, a company building commercial complements to the Redis data store, just published a “Commons Clause” that attempts to prevent commercial use of software under an open source license. This has not been well-received.
Marketing notwithstanding, the so-called "Commons Clause" makes Redis's new license proprietary -- as in, not #OpenSource. They acknowledge this, to their credit, but then try, unconvincingly IMHO, to play down its significance. https://t.co/aDgsRBHjsz— Karl Fogel (@kfogel) August 21, 2018
This is open source gone wrong. As I said earlier, vendors hire the main contributor and then they start holding features for hostage so that you can only get them through their service and nobody else’s service.— Kelly Sommers (@kellabyte) August 22, 2018
That’s what’s happening to Redis. pic.twitter.com/sNYemZ1Zal
The complaints about this are superficially about licensing, but at Tidelift, we think the root problem is the failure of the most common open source business models.
Redis Labs is trying to do a very reasonable thing: make money from the hard work they’ve put into their namesake project. That has historically been a challenging task, as we have covered before in this space. While there are significant scale open source businesses, there are many more essential open source projects that have struggled to build a scalable business.
The freedom granted to users of open source simply makes it hard (though not impossible) to build a business at a large scale, because traditional software companies ultimately make most of their money by controlling access to the software. Redis’s Common Clause appears to be an experiment in changing this balance, taking back some control in an attempt to reach a more favorable economic balance.
Regardless of what you think of this particular experiment, we should all hope that Redis Labs can fund sustained, long-term development of Redis. We’re all better off when developers can get paid to build and maintain software that is easy to deploy, use, and improve. The question, then, is how we experiment—what changes can we test that might make open source development more sustainable?
Licensing changes are one potential area of experimentation, and they aren’t all bad. In fact, I advocated for thoughtful, sensitive changes to copyleft at FOSDEM this year! But many of the potential disruptive changes to the open source licensing model are an attempt to take us back to the bad old days, where every piece of software needed a separate license and a separate pricing negotiation.
We founded Tidelift to suggest a different kind of experiment. Instead of changing open source licenses to subtract utility and increase friction, we think that developers should try a new open source business model that adds incremental value and in so doing allows developers to build recurring, long-term revenue that is tied to the value they’re creating.
If you’d like to learn more about how we are approaching these issues, start with this blog post by my co-founder Donald Fischer and then read more on our website.