Magento, license could be a serious trouble

IMPORTANT UPDATE: The only meaning of this post is to raise a critical point of view about the OSL license (choosen by Magento), absolutely not to discourage someone from using Magento itself, I simply love it.

Magento, the last and most promising open source e-commerce platform beeing developed, is released under the Open Software License 3.0.

The license is really difficult to read if you’re not an English expert, anyway let’s take a look at what GNU says about OSL (bold by me):

The Open Software License is a free software license. It is incompatible with the GNU GPL in several ways.

Recent versions of the Open Software License have a term which requires distributors to try to obtain explicit assent to the license. This means that distributing OSL software on ordinary FTP sites, sending patches to ordinary mailing lists, or storing the software in an ordinary version control system, is arguably a violation of the license and would subject you to possible termination of the license. Thus, the Open Software License makes it very difficult to develop software using the ordinary tools of free software development. For this reason, and because it is incompatible with the GPL, we recommend that no version of the OSL be used for any software.

We urge you not to use the Open Software License for software you write. However, there is no reason to avoid running programs that have been released under this license.

Being incompatible with GPL it’s a big issue, it avoids avery integration between Magento and any GPL software and it’s a big limitation.

A normal day of a free software developer:

I write a patch for Magento. That patch is released under OSL becuase that’s what OSL impose. I send the patch to some public mailing list or post it to a forum because I want to help developers creating a better and bug-free software.

In this situation I’m violating the license and I’m loosing my right to use the software anymore. I think this is a serious trouble that should be avoided and solved.

A note from OSL wikipedia page:

the OSL has never been tested in court and is not widely used

In fact we can see that only 3 project are listed (in that wikipedia’s page) to be using OSL.

Final thoughts:
In a forum post Roy Rubin (CEO of Varien, creators of Magento), says that a big difference from GPL is that OSL defines distribution over a network as a distribution. If this is the most important aspect Varien is taking care of, than I suggest to switch to Affero GPL 3, which is completely compatible with GPL 3 and takes care of the network distribution of a GPL software.

We all know that many people do not pay serious attention to all the license implications, but all the others could stop using Magento because of all the problems above and I don’t think this is a good thing for the project.

UPDATE: AGPL3 would not be suitable for the frontend, the license switch proposal is just a provocation.

22 thoughts on “Magento, license could be a serious trouble

  1. Roy (Magento)

    The Open Software License is a free software license. It is incompatible with the GNU GPL in several ways.

    Recent versions of the Open Software License have a term which requires distributors to try to obtain explicit assent to the license. This means that distributing OSL software on ordinary FTP sites, sending patches to ordinary mailing lists, or storing the software in an ordinary version control system, is arguably a violation of the license and would subject you to possible termination of the license. Thus, the Open Software License makes it very difficult to develop software using the ordinary tools of free software development. For this reason, and because it is incompatible with the GPL, we recommend that no version of the OSL be used for any software.

    We urge you not to use the Open Software License for software you write. However, there is no reason to avoid running programs that have been released under this license.

    +++
    +++

    The reason that OSL 3.0 is incompatible has nothing to do with this. It is because OSL 3.0 requires derivative works to be under OSL that the two licenses—and MPL, and CDDL, and lots of others are incompatible with GPL as well. It is for the same reason that GPLv2 is incompatible with GPLv3.

    This comment (above) may also reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of OSL 3.0 and of the GPL licenses. GPL-licensed software can link to OSL 3.0-licensed software without the OSL causing any license problem. OSL 3.0-licensed software can link to GPL-licensed software without any license problem. The OSL 3.0 license doesn’t affect independently written GPL-licensed software in any way, no matter how it links.

    Hope this helps resolve the confusion.

    Roy

  2. Fabrizio Balliano Post author

    @Roy (Magento):
    you’re right about the fact that AGPL is not OSI approved, I’m crawling within the OSI mailing lists to find out if it was already submitted and what is the progress of the approval. I can’t believe that AGPL3, which is no more that GPL3 + a paragraph can’t be approved as as OSI license.

    anyway we still have the “patches to mailing lists” and the “public archive” and the “installation for 3rd party” problems, which remain unsolved and tedious.

  3. Lawrence Rosen

    If you find OSL 3.0 difficult to understand, then I recommend that you read this article:

    http://www.rosenlaw.com/OSL3.0-explained.htm

    The concerns you have expressed in this posting are not realistic. OSL 3.0 doesn’t prevent the kinds of things you want to do.

    Also, the Wikipedia page on OSL 3.0 is way out of date. The Open Software License and the Academic Free License are among the top dozen open source licenses in the world. Currently more projects use OSL 3.0 than use the new AGPL.

  4. Fabrizio Balliano Post author

    @Lawrence Rosen:
    It’s not me saying most of those things, it’s GNU, and I completely trust their interpretation.
    On freshmeat there are only 130 projects released under OSL (really low number), and only 36 projects released under AGPL, but we’ve to consider that AGPL is usable only from 3.0 release (’till 2.0 it was incompatible with other licenses) thus this kind of comparison it’s not correct.

  5. Saharian

    Being incompatible with GPL it’s a big issue, it avoids avery integration between Magento and any GPL software and it’s a big limitation.

    BS – integration has nothing to do with component license compatibility.

    I write a patch for Magento. That patch is released under OSL becuase that’s what OSL impose. I send the patch to some public mailing list or post it to a forum because I want to help developers creating a better and bug-free software.

    In this situation I’m violating the license and I’m loosing my right to use the software anymore. I think this is a serious trouble that should be avoided and solved.

    How did you figure that?? Please explain how the example above violates the license.

    We all know that many people do not pay serious attention to all the license implications, but all the others could stop using Magento because of all the problems above and I don’t think this is a good thing for the project.

    I guess that sentence explains the other fear mongering out of the blue statements. This even contradicts what GNU says:

    However, there is no reason to avoid running programs that have been released under this license.

    Do you have any personal reason for spreading lies about Magento?

  6. Fabrizio Balliano Post author

    @Saharian:
    1) integration is relevant with license compatibility, it’s a matter of HOW you integrate the software.

    2) it’s GNU saying that. read GNU considerations.

    3) sure you can use OSL software but this post is meant to be a suggestion to magento’s team, because I care about magento cause it’s a great software

    4) lies? personal reasons? do you know i’m the italian magento’s blog translator? so i think i can raise critical points of view, not to create FUD about magento, maybe that’s not clear to you.

  7. Saharian

    it’s GNU saying that. read GNU considerations.

    Do THEY explain it?

    Are you saying that you’re accepting GNU as an absolute authority and blindly believing and following everything they write?

    Being the first does not mean being the best, and that’s definitely the case with GNU.

    Sure, kudos to them for being ones of the first to start the initiative, but to make them the most valid one??

    The very fact that GPLv2 is incompatible with GPLv3 shows that they have reconsidered many things they have thought originally of and conceived wrongly.

    Also, following their logic, does it mean that integration of one GPL application with another GPL appliction is troublesome? Hm..

    That’s why you have other licenses (OSL, AFL, etc.) that have learned on previous bad experiences and cases and closed inherent loopholes that possibly make them incompatible with older licenses, and which is perfectly fine with me.

    About the FTP case – nowhere in the license it says that distribution over FTP is against the license.

    It says that if you distribute the application as a service to wide public, you have to treat it under the same OSL license and to provide a copy of the source code for your application. Now that’s what i call the real open source.

    lies? personal reasons? do you know i’m the italian magento’s blog translator? so i think i can raise critical points of view, not to create FUD about magento, maybe that’s not clear to you.

    No, i wasn’t aware of this. That makes it even more surprising that you urge your readers not to use Magento.

    IANAL, and i hope that Lawrence Rosen could shed some more light about the FTP issue that GNU is speculating about and where they might have got this idea from.

  8. Fabrizio Balliano Post author

    @Saharian:
    hemmm where did I write not to use magento? you don’t see the real meaning of this post, I’m sorry.

    anyway GNU should not be considered one of the biggest player in the open source license game? are you kidding me? if they write those considerations about OSL then Mr. Rosen should contact them and clarify every aspect and (maybe) they could make both *GPL/OSL become compatible, if everyone keeps saying different things than no one could understand anything. We all need a clarification, it will be good for OSL too.

    another consideration, look at magento’s forum and you’ll find a bunch of posts asking “hey can I do this or that with this license?”, this should make you think that MAYBE the license is not as clear as you think, MAYBE.

    Saharian, I’d like everyone of us (open source players) to be costructive, if an issue is raised let’s work together to solve it and make free software always better.

  9. Saharian

    hemmm where did I write not to use magento? you don’t see the real meaning of this post, I’m sorry.

    Here’s where you write it:

    We all know that many people do not pay serious attention to all the license implications, but all the others could stop using Magento because of all the problems above and I don’t think this is a good thing for the project.

    Maybe the meaning behind this statement is different from how i understand it, in that case please clarify.

    anyway GNU should not be considered one of the biggest player in the open source license game? are you kidding me? if they write those considerations about OSL then Mr. Rosen should contact them and clarify every aspect and (maybe) they could make both *GPL/OSL become compatible, if everyone keeps saying different things than no one could understand anything. We all need a clarification, it will be good for OSL too.

    “one of the biggest player” – yes, not absolute authority that dictate eligibility of other licenses. And I do not think they by themselves take what they write as absolute truth, but as just their opinion. You take it as an established fact without digging into their statements and giving it benefit of a doubt.

    it’s GNU saying that. read GNU considerations.

    I know it is very convenient not to take responsibility over your aquired statements by relaying it on the source, but if you repeat them without understanding, be prepared to take a heat if they’re not correct.

    Explain me this logic:
    * GPLv2 is not compatible with GPLv3 – no problem
    * OSL is not compatible with GPL – big problem, stop using OSL software.

    another consideration, look at magento’s forum and you’ll find a bunch of posts asking “hey can I do this or that with this license?”, this should make you think that MAYBE the license is not as clear as you think, MAYBE.

    If you read the posts carefully, you will see that most of the questions are about TRADEMARK, not LICENSE. Many people confuse these 2 terms, but it’s their problem and it’s being explained in one of the posts i think. The questions are about usage of “Magento” ™ word in their domain names.

    Saharian, I’d like everyone of us (open source players) to be costructive, if an issue is raised let’s work together to solve it and make free software always better.

    Do you imply by that that you’re being more constructive than me? The 2 suggestions you have made were using AGPL3, which you have retracted later, and to stop using Magento.

    Very constructive.

  10. Lawrence Rosen

    You wrote: “I write a patch for Magento. That patch is released under OSL becuase that’s what OSL impose. I send the patch to some public mailing list or post it to a forum because I want to help developers creating a better and bug-free software. In this situation I’m violating the license and I’m loosing my right to use the software anymore. I think this is a serious trouble that should be avoided and solved.”

    This is totally wrong. You *always* retain the right to license your own work under as many licenses as you want. You can never violate your own license for your own software. Your patch is yours.

    But you can *never* change the license of Magento without the permission of its copyright owners. That’s true of any open source license. It is not something special about OSL 3.0.

    As the author of OSL 3.0, I can reassure you that your fears are mistaken. You’re misreading the license and the copyright law.

    /Larry Rosen

  11. Fabrizio Balliano Post author

    @Lawrence Rosen: it’s nice to see your clarifications, the problem came from a consideration like “direvative works are released under OSL, a patch is something that creates a derivative thus should be under OSL and thus there’s the explicit assent thing to consider”. if you say that this is different that’s ok, I could be wrong. I’ll write GNU to find out if they could correct their considerations.

    @Saharian: “other people could stop using magento” does not mean “I suggest you not to use magento”, it’s completely different and it’s a warning I wanted to raise to the magento’s team so they could take care of all the posts in their forums asking clarifications about liceses.

    I do not imply anything, I just pointed out a situation, and anyway you can check my latest post about magento, and you would not say i’m not constructive.

  12. Saharian

    Thanks for clarification, indeed it could be read in few ways, as a call for action and as a possibility.

    Together with incorrect and not favourable one-way interpretation of the license I’ve got bit overprotective for Magento, as I love the fresh air it brings to ecommerce market, and get annoyed by non-sense opposition.

    Please accept my appologies.

  13. Fabrizio Balliano Post author

    @Saharian: no problem at all, I tried to fill the post with updates to correct the possible misreading :-) but you know… not being a native english speaker makes things difficult to me :-(

  14. Gustavo G. Mármol

    Larry,

    GNU, said:

    “The Open Software License is a free software license. It is incompatible with the GNU GPL in several ways. Recent versions of the Open Software License have a term which requires distributors to try to obtain explicit assent to the license. This means that distributing OSL software on ordinary FTP sites, sending patches to ordinary mailing lists, or storing the software in an ordinary version control system, is arguably a violation of the license and would subject you to possible termination of the license. Thus, the Open Software License makes it very difficult to develop software using the ordinary tools of free software development. For this reason, and because it is incompatible with the GPL, we recommend that no version of the OSL be used for any software. We urge you not to use the Open Software License for software you write. However, there is no reason to avoid running programs that have been released under this license”.

    And, you in your article establish that: “licenses And the Manifestation of Assent”…Perhaps the most obvious linguistic difference between OSL 3.0 and the GPL Licenses is that OSL 3.0 uses terms of art and expressions from contract law to say precisely what it means”…”There is nothing in OSL 3.0 itself, owever, that requires the formation of a contract in order to grant -or to revoke the grant- of the license to the copyrighted work”

    And…”to encourage contract formation, OSL 3.0 requires that downstream licenses who in turn distribute must make a reasonable effort under the circunstances to obtain the express assent of recipients to ther terms of this License”

    And in Clause 9 “Acceptance and Termination”. License OSL 3.0:”If, at any time, You expressly assented to this license, that assent indicates your clear and irrevocable acceptance of this License and all of its terms and conditions. If you distribute or communicate copies of the original work or Derivate work, you must make a reasonable effort under the circunstances to obtain the express asssent of recipients to ther terms of this License.”

    From my view, and according with my interpretation of the License OSL 3.0, the sine qua non condition to exercise the rights granted by the Licensor are limited to fullfil 1.c) “with the proviso that copies of the original work or derivative works that you distribute or communicate shall be licensed under this OSL.”. That means you accepted the terms of the license at the moment you decide to create a derivative work based upon the original work. This is the moment that reflect the acceptance of the license by the licensee.

    In the other hand, Clause 9, establish “If, at any time, you expressly assented to this license..”

    The meaning of “IF” means only the possibility”, that is to say, you must make a reasonable effort to obtain the express assent of recipients to the terms of the license (in downstream licenses), but, you are not obligated to get it, just because only you have to prove “reasonable effort” to demostrate, in any case, that you intent to obtain the express assent, but in no way can someone understand that this act is a violation of the license.

    Also, the License not establish the termination of the license under this circunstances.

    The License only shall terminte when the licensee failure to honor the conditions in section 1.c.

    Thanks, Gustavo.

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  16. Mani

    Hi,

    I know a little about License and certainly NOT the expert in this area. I agree to some of the points mentioned by Fabrizio Balliano.

    But, anyhow my concern totally different.
    From the Page: http://www.magentocommerce.com/license/
    Can I use the “Magento” trademark in one of my domain names or URLs?
    No. You may not use the Magento trademark or any other mark associated with the Magento offering from our company in your domain name or URL. (For instance “www.magentohosting.com” is not allowed. See more on this topic below.)

    I think, this is very strange. Suppose If i am a web developer or blogger, how can i avoid magento name from my URL ? Nowadays almost all the CMS comes with SEO friendly build-in engine, then how can I avoid Magento in my URL ?
    Why cant I have the Magento in my URL or domain name ?
    Does this License speaks anything about it ? or it is condition from the author of Magento ?
    one more qns: Is there any open source which has similar conditions ?

    sorry, I am wrong. Just i am writing this comments to clarify.
    Magento is one of the BEST available ecom solun now.
    Thanks for that Great Work!!!

  17. phill

    wow.

    I never knew this about Magento!
    I had searched for a week for an ecommerce solution, now I have to rethink…

    One thing was very odd.
    You can download Magento directly and examine its code if you wish, but YOU CANNOT DOWNLOAD THE MAGENTO EXTENSIONS!

    you have to enter some “extensions code” in the Magento admin screen, and IT downloads and installs…dont like that at all, also it means I cant have a bunch of files that make up a magento site ready for use when I want it… oh well…. luckily there are other free products

  18. Michael

    I would like to provide website design services that sell package that include install magento, hosting and design website. Will this violate the licence? many thanks.

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