A Change in License for Berkeley DB

Perhaps you didn’t spot it, but last month in their new Berkeley DB release Oracle changed the license associated with the software. Many will see this as a betrayal of trust, despite the fact that the new license (the AGPL) is also strongly copyleft, published by the FSF and approved by the Open Source Initiative. Of course, Oracle are completely within their rights to change the license as they see fit, but for Web developers using Berkeley DB for local storage, the seemingly small change from one strong copyleft license to another may well be seen as cynical and manipulative.

Why would that be? One key difference between the two licenses is that the AGPL requires “your modified version must prominently offer all users interacting with it remotely through a computer network … an opportunity to receive the Corresponding Source of your version.” It’s a clause which forces developers already familiar with the software to change their way of working with it, adding significantly to their workload, as previously they will not have  had to worry much about compliance with the terms of the license because they never “redistributed” the source of their Web apps.

No reason for the change was given, but to avoid the hassle of compliance, developers can simply purchase a proprietary license to Berkeley DB from Oracle, so the new licensing may well be intended to drive developers in that direction. No one likes to have their hand forced though, so this is a move which may well see previously loyal developers move towards alternatives. Read more in this week’s InfoWorld article.

6 thoughts on “A Change in License for Berkeley DB

  1. Let’s be serious, how many developers using BDB are changing it’s source code?
    I highly doubt there are any, and even if they are, most probably they already contribute with the code to the upstream repository.


  2. This is a great idea. There are a lot of FOSS developers who love the GPL and the AGPL and the freedom it grants them. There are also proprietary developers who are too afraid of those licenses who will pony up the cash that will support continued development on the product. Everyone wins with this dual licensing.

    Your hand isn’t really being forced if you’re already a Free/Open Source developer. I don’t see the problem with the AGPL.


  3. I know lots of people using BDB, but I’ve never heard of anyone using a local fork with unpublished changes. That’s a well-known recipe for pain. Were people actually doing that? I can’t imagine what secret sauce one might need to add to BDB itself.


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  5. This is why I posted a comment on your open-by-rule blog posts. You judge on “copyright accumulation” while this doesn’t mean anything without describing the ownership model and the relicensing policy.


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