Don't Believe the Hype, AGPL Open Source Licensing Is Toxic and Unpopular

Matt Asay | Tech Republic | September 5, 2017

Despite Black Duck's attempts to hype the AGPL, there are very good reasons to believe it's not the ideal open source license.

Reading Black Duck Software's newest paean to the Affero General Public License (AGPL) ("The Quietly Accelerating Adoption of the AGPL"), one could be forgiven for thinking AGPL is rocking the open source licensing planet. After all, Black Duck executive Phil Odence laced his post with fancy charts showing explosive growth of the license, ultimately declaring the AGPL "very popular," and a license his firm sees frequently in audits.

Maybe, maybe not. For all AGPL's supposed popularity, Black Duck can only come up with 8,000 or so projects (among over 60 million open source repositories) that carry the license, with the only reasonably well-known project being MongoDB. That's hardly how I'd characterize "popular." Meanwhile, permissive licenses like Apache and BSD control virtually any promising project that developers will actually use, from Kubernetes to TensorFlow to Kafka. It's permissive licensing all the way down. Why? Because it's developers that increasingly run the world, and they don't want to get locked out of preferred projects by a license.

It's not surprising that companies would choose the AGPL to control their code. The AGPL is the closest thing possible to a proprietary software license. source! No, it's free software, as in users are free to use it, and corporations are free to charge money for it (through dual-licensing arrangements), but the AGPL is absolutely not free in any meaningful sense for developers. This, by the way, is almost certainly the reason that Black Duck is blogging about it...