Akka Ratchets The Rights Away

There’s been a regrettable rise in the number of projects switching to “fauxpensource” proprietary licenses. In the main, this is the inevitable consequence of the rights-ratchet model running its course and reflects the growth of open source ten years or so ago, the model’s typical life-cycle. The rights ratchet model offers open source freedoms in the initial years of a product to secure adoption and market acceptance and then gradually removes their viability from customers as the company seeks to control their ecosystem and increase revenue.

So the license change that LightBend applied to its Akka product to end its open source status was in retrospect more probable than not given the available evidence that they were using a rights-ratchet business model, just like Elastic and other before them.

Signs that together seem a clear warning include:

  • VC backing includes VCs who have previously advised portfolio companies to ignore the community rather than leaving money on the table.
  • Used a Contributor Agreement despite also using a license entirely suitable for use without one.
  • Change of CEO recently saw the departure of a respected open source leader who had been at the helm during the community-building years.
  • The web site does not mention open source as a customer benefit.
  • The typical 10-year cycle of the rights-ratchet model from open source to proprietary was nearly up.

Those familiar with the rights-ratchet model will undoubtedly have been preparing for the switch. Anyone else may be surprised by it – this time.

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