Brussels / 2 & 3 February 2019


Who wants you to think nobody uses the AGPL and why

The GNU Affero General Public License (AGPL) is an important tool for protecting user freedom on the network. Detractors have criticized it for being both too weak and too strong/demanding. In 2018, it was in the news more than ever. Are the interests of corporations that are afraid of their free code being turned into network services run by competitors starting to align with users losing their freedom to such services?

Historically, the AGPL has been the target of criticism from entities that want to extinguish it. Some companies have banned it from their premises, sowed fear about how it operates, and propagated a myth that nobody is using it.

Others claim that the AGPL is being used primarily by companies seeking to strong-arm downstream users into purchasing a proprietary version of the covered software -- by catching those users being out of compliance with the AGPL, and telling them that they must buy the software under a proprietary license to avoid being taken to court for copyright infringement.

A third group of companies is now claiming that the AGPL doesn't go far enough to protect their software against being turned into services that deny users freedom -- though freedom may not be their primary concern.

In fact, the AGPL is being used today by a variety of interesting and important projects, including ones started by governments, nonprofits, and even businesses. I'll highlight some illustrative examples. I'll also do my best to separate understandable concerns that people have about using the AGPL from attacks on user freedom masquerading as concerns, and see if there is any synergy between the concerns of the third group above and those of individual users.

While not a full solution to the problems raised when users replace software running on their own machines with software running on someone else's machine, the AGPL is a tool that is being embraced and should be embraced even more.


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