More Projects Should Choose AGPL

April 21st, 2024

Do a quick search on the AGPL and you’ll find a lot of criticism. Some of it often include:

  • “It’s bad because it’s too restrictive”
  • “It’s probably bad, because companies like Google don’t allow it internally”

While it seems that the critics outweigh the fans, the reality is that critics are often individuals looking to use open source code, rather than to contribute to it. And they outnumber maintainers by a large margin.

The AGPL requires people to share modifications made to the software, even if the software is simply made available via network (e.g. a SaaS web application). It’s this clause that annoys people and companies. How are they supposed to take your free work, modify it and make money without contributing? Sure a more permissive license, such as MIT/BSD would suit theirĀ needs better, as it requires less compliance efforts.

The AGPL was not written to please the largest number of developers, but rather to protect the basic software freedoms of end-users. In a sense, the AGPL guarantees more freedoms, is more free, than other licenses such as MIT/BSD. But depends on the point of view, doesn’t it?

Many developers and companies don’t like to have their freedom to steal to be restricted by such strong terms as those imposed by the AGPL. And that’s a good thing for you, my fellow maintainer. It’s also a great thing for you, dear end-users.

In the end, the AGPL is an excellent license. The critics just want to eat cake for free. Ask them to bring something to the party by choosing the AGPL.