Addressing the ASP 'Loophole'

Lora Bentley

When the Free Software Foundation released the Affero General Public License v3 last November, it was heralded as the answer to the GPL's ASP loophole. Turns out it isn't the only answer, but it's the answer that's receiving the most support in the development community -- or at least the most press coverage at the moment.

 

By way of review, the GPL allows Web services providers who use open source to build the software that runs their services to "get away" without contributing that software to the community because their software is not distributed as that term is used in the GPL.

 

Some argue that the license doesn't cover Web services only because they didn't exist when the GPL was first conceptualized. Others, like News.com blogger Gordon Haff, don't see the Web services "loophole" as something that needs plugging. Open source, he says, "can stand on its own without heroic measures to prop it up." (There's also the argument that Web services did exist when the latest version of the GPL was drafted, and even so, the "loophole" wasn't addressed in a bright line, black and white manner.)

 

InformationWeek's Serdar Yegulalp offers yet another view:

Perhaps, the best response to a closed source web service built on open source software is to create something like what you see, and in a way that does give back, instead of singling out the original creators for vilification. Sure, it's a duplication of effort, but it wouldn't be the first time that happened....[A]ny licensing agreement for open source, no matter how tightly worded, is always going to have some kind of workaround or end run. We might as well deal with it as gracefully as we can.


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