It was last year in October when MongoDB announced that it’s switching to Server Side Public License (SSPL). Now, the news of Red Hat removing MongoDB from its Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Fedora over its SSPL license has been gaining attention.
Tom Callaway, University outreach Team lead, Red Hat, mentioned in a note, earlier this week, that Fedora does not consider MongoDB’s Server Side Public License v1 (SSPL) as a Free Software License. He further explained that SSPL is “intentionally crafted to be aggressively discriminatory towards a specific class of users. To consider the SSPL to be “Free” or “Open Source” causes that shadow to be cast across all other licenses in the FOSS ecosystem, even though none of them carry that risk”.
The first instance of Red Hat removing MongoDB happened back in November 2018 when its RHEL 8.0 beta was released. RHEL 8.0 beta release notes explicitly mentioned that the reason behind the removal of MongoDB in RHEL 8.0 beta is because of SSPL.
Apart from Red Hat, Debian also dropped MongoDB from its Debian archive last month due to similar concerns over MongoDB’s SSPL. “For clarity, we will not consider any other version of the SSPL beyond version one. The SSPL is clearly not in the spirit of the DFSG (Debian’s free software guidelines), let alone complimentary to the Debian’s goals of promoting software or user freedom”, mentioned Chirs Lamb, Debian Project Leader.
Also, Debian developer, Apollon Oikonomopoulos, mentioned that MongoDB 3.6 and 4.0 will be supported longer but that Debian will not be distributing any SSPL-licensed software. He also mentioned how keeping the last AGPL-licensed version (3.6.8 or 4.0.3) without the ability to “cherry-pick upstream fixes is not a viable option”. That being said, MongoDB 3.4 will be a part of Debian as long as it is AGPL-licensed (MongoDB’s previous license).
MongoDB’s decision to move to SSPL license was due to cloud providers exploiting its open source code. SSPL clearly specifies an explicit condition that companies wanting to use, review, modify or redistribute MongoDB as a service, would have to open source the software that they’re using. This, in turn, led to a debate among the industry and the open source community, as they started to question whether MongoDB is open source anymore.
Someone asked me today if MongoDB is still open source. I thought he was joking but since October 16, 2018, MongoDB is no longer open source. It's SSPL-licensed, which is not an OSI-approved license. It's open-ish, but not open source. This genuinely makes me sad
— Matt Asay (@mjasay) January 8, 2019
Also, MongoDB’s adoption SSPL forces companies to either go open source or choose MongoDB’s commercial products. “It seems clear that the intent of the license author is to cause Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt towards commercial users of software under that license” mentioned Callaway.
In a narrow sense, perhaps it helps MongoDB avoid its community competing with it. But it also hurts: I’ve talked with 2 Fortune 500 companies that are looking to remove MDB because of SSPL. It introduces uncertainty/risk and lawyers don’t like risk https://t.co/Q2U84pvkEm
— Matt Asay (@mjasay) January 11, 2019