Will GNU AGPLv3 boost Open Source SaaS support?


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The new version of the GNU Affero General Public License has been published by the Free Software Foundation, based upon the existing GNU GPLv3 license but with one important difference: support for on-demand software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications. By publishing this license, the FSF aims to foster user and development communities around network-oriented free software.

The GNU Affero General Public License is a free, copyleft license for software which has been specifically designed to ensure cooperation with the community in the case of network server software. It is intended to guarantee the freedom to share and change versions of a program, ensuring it remains free for all its users. So while the GNU General Public License enables the user to make a modified version of the software and provide pubic access to it via a server but without ever actually releasing its source code, the Affero version is designed from the ground up to ensure that this modified source code is made available to the wider community. Specifically, it requires the operator of that network server to provide the source code of the modified version running upon it to the users.

Although this new license is based upon developments by San Francisco-based volunteers rating and reputation company Affero, responsible for the Affero General Public License based upon GPLv2, and which aimed to achieve similar ends, it is not the same and should not be thought of as a version of that license. According to the FSF, Affero has released a new version of the Affero GPL which permits relicensing under this new GNU AGPLv3 license. Affero confusion apart, it is hoped that by introducing this new license the Software as a Service development arena will find favour with the Open Source community. FSF board member Benjamin Mako Hill said, “The GNU GPL has been the most successful free software license because it makes a program's source available to its users. This enables massive collaboration between developers, since everyone gets the same benefits from this rule. The GNU AGPL will enable the same kind of cooperation around web services and other networked software.”

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