[Freedom-misc] When to use and not use GNU AGPL

jason at bluehome.net jason at bluehome.net
Thu Jul 12 06:58:12 CEST 2018

"Given everything you point out in your comment about desktop software being  
encapsulated as web apps ("tivoized"), why was the Affero clause not added as  
a standard part of GPLv3?"

Well, the GPLv3 drafting process was public and the FSF shared all of their  
rationale for things as drafts went out and feedback came in.

If you check out Discussion Draft # 2 of GPLv3 at  
http://gplv3.fsf.org/gpl-draft-2006-07-27.html you will see Section 7 would  
have an an optional feature where people could add "terms that require, if a  
modified version of the material they cover is a work intended to interact  
with users through a computer network, that those users be able to obtain  
copies of the Corresponding Source of the work through the same network  

aka the Affero stuff. That helps to establish the baseline. But, as you see,  
it would have been an optional feature that people would turn on (or not)  
when they were licensing under GPLv3 and it defaulted to being off.

But if you check out Discussion Draft #3 they re-worked the entire thing:  
Now that stuff is gone from Section 7. What's now there is Section 13;  
compatibility with the Affero GPL as a separate license.

So: The FSF compromised and moved that optional feature into a separate  

They discuss the rationale here: http://gplv3.fsf.org/gpl3-dd3-rationale.pdf

"We have made this decision in the face of irreconcilable views from  
different parts of our community."

The entire document is a good read but I recommend reading all of 4.2 in  
their rationale to help understand it.

It let them do the one thing that they thought really needed doing: Getting  
compatibility with the Affero clause so that people could use it if they  
wanted to. Remember that it would have been an optional feature in GPLv3  
anyway, so having people "activate" the feature by electing to use the AGPL  
instead of the GPL would be almost the same as people using the GPL and  
"turning on" the Affero clause. So; moving it to a separate license didn't  
hurt since people can still elect to use that instead of the ordinary GPL if  
they want the feature activated.

But they did give up on their broader policy goal of having a variety of  
Affero-like terms. At least temporarily.

Because even this one was really hard.

And people say the FSF never compromises.

Perhaps GPLv4 will be a chance to re-visit this but that might depend on how  
people's attitudes evolve toward it. This is yet another reason I encourage  
everyone to use the AGPL over the GPL too: To make it more common. If more  
and more people see it and get used to the idea that a lot of the software  
they use is under the AGPL then those other policy goals might become easier  
to achieve.

More information about the Freedom-misc mailing list