The most sincere form of flattery

Looking for Freedom

CC BY-ND 2.0 by Daniel Lee

Nextcloud now exists for almost exactly 8 months. During this time we put a lot of efforts in polishing existing features and developing new functionality which is crucial to the success of our users and customers.

As promised, everything we do is Free Software (also called Open Source), licensed under the terms of the GNU APGLv3. This gives our users and customers the most possible flexibility and independence. The ability to use, study, share and improve the software also allows to integrate our software in other cloud solutions as long as you respect the license and we are happy to see that people make use of this rights actively.

Code appearing in other app stores

We are proud to see that the quality of our software is not only acknowledged by our own users but also by users of other cloud solutions. Recently more and more of our applications show up at the ownCloud App Store. For example the community driven News app or the Server Info app, developed by the Nextcloud GmbH. Additionally we have heard that our SAML authentication application is widely considered far better quality than other, even proprietary alternatives, and used by customers of our competitors in especially the educational market. All this is completely fine as long as the combination of both, our application and the rest of the server, is licensed under the terms of the GNU AGPLv3.

Not suitable for mixing with enterprise versions

While we can’t actively work on keeping our applications compatible with other cloud solutions, we welcome every 3rd party efforts on it. The only draw-back, most of the other cloud solutions out there make a distinction between home users and enterprises on a license level. While home users get the software under a Free Software license, compatible with the license of our applications, Enterprise customers don’t get the same freedom and independence and are therefore not compatible with the license we have chosen. This means that all the users who uses propriety cloud solutions (often hidden by the term “Enterprise version”) are not able to legally use our applications. We feel sorry for them, but of course a solution exists – get support from the people who wrote your software rather than a different company. In general, we would recommend buying support for real Free Software and not just Open Source marketing.

Of course we don’t want to sue people for copyright violation. But Frank choose the AGPL license 7 years ago on purpose and we want to make sure that the users of our software understand the license and it’s implications. In a nutshell, the GNU AGPLv3 gives you the right to do with the software whatever your want and most important all the entrepreneurial freedom and independence your business needs, as long as the combined work is again licensed under the GNU AGPLv3. By combining GNU AGPLv3 applications with a proprietary server, you violate this rule and thus the terms of the license. I hope that other cloud solutions are aware of this problem, created by their open-core business model, and take some extra steps to protect their customers from violating the license of other companies and individual contributors. For example by performing a license check before a application gets enabled.

Open Core is a bad model for software development

This is one of many problems arising from the usage of open core business models. It puts users on risk if they combine the proprietary part with Free Software, more about it can be read here. That’s why we recommend all enterprise and home users to avoid a situation where proprietary and free licensed software is combined. This is a legal minefield. We at Nextcloud decided to take a clear stance on it. Everything is Free Software and there is only one version of the software for both home users and enterprises. Thus allows every home user, customer or partner to use all applications available as long as they respect the license.

5 Responses to “The most sincere form of flattery”

  1. […] Björn Schießle said Björn Schießle Be careful by mixing Free Software with proprietary software. Solution: make sure to use/buy real Free Software […]

  2. Interesting collection of alternative facts, FUD and believes. Lets look into the reality:

    When you do look at the FSF FAQ which says “we believe” = have no prove for our statement you will also see that it is for the GPL, not for the AGPL.

    The AGPLv3 is very clear to state:
    “To “modify” a work means to copy from or adapt all or part of the work in a fashion requiring copyright permission, other than the making of an exact copy. The resulting work is called a “modified version” of the earlier work or a work “based on” the earlier work.”

    ownCloud Server Core happens to be the earlier work and any ownCloud fork called Nextcloud or otherwise happens to be modified work. Same is true for any and all AGPLv3 apps running inside ownCloud or an ownCloud Fork including Nextcloud.

    The CLA allows us to dual-license our earlier work under the ownCloud commercial license or any other license we choose and which preserves the choice for our customers to keep any such modified work to themselves or even sell it to others under licenses we approve.

    Yes, the ownCloud Community has decided to put the server info app into the ownCloud appstore but is even saying that its a fork of the Nextcloud version while I would really appreciate such attribution in the other direction or better to the earlier work instead of claims that the Nextcloud project exists since 2010 which is another alternative fact you design in one of the links you mention.

    • Interesting collection of alternative facts, FUD and believes. Lets look into the reality:

      Well, quoting yourself is not the best argument to prove your position, right 😉

      I’m happy to discuss this topic with you. But I’m sure we can argue with arguments and not with terms like “FUD” or “alternative facts”.

      When you do look at the FSF FAQ which says “we believe” = have no prove for our statement you will also see that it is for the GPL, not for the AGPL.

      Well this is a interpretation from a group of international lawyers who wrote the license. This is not “someone” who “believes something”.

      You are right that the FAQ is about the GPL and not about the AGPL. But the licenses only differ in how they define the meaning of “conveying”, they don’t differ in the scope they define for a combined work.

      ownCloud Server Core happens to be the earlier work and any ownCloud fork called Nextcloud or otherwise happens to be modified work. Same is true for any and all AGPLv3 apps running inside ownCloud or an ownCloud Fork including Nextcloud.

      For an app, it doesn’t matter if it is written for Nextcloud, ownCloud, or independent. It simply matters if the license is compatible with the rest of the code it is combined with.

      Reading your articles about this topic we agree that a “application” is a derivative work of the server and therefore an app and the servers’ license have to be compatible.

      I would argue that a “ownCloud/Nextcloud app” has many similarities to a library. It provides additional functionality, e.g. a new authentication method to allow the server to perform a action which it couldn’t perform otherwise. By using this software you create a combining work which as a whole needs to be licensed under mutually compatible licenses because as you noted: “the code from the ownCloud core is always running in parallel of any such extensions.”(Source)

      To my knowledge there was never a lawsuit about this special case but my interpretation is backed by the GPL FAQ (with respect to the definition of a combined work there is no difference between the GPL and the AGPL) which says clearly:

      “If the program dynamically links plug-ins, and they make function calls to each other and share data structures, we believe they form a single program, which must be treated as an extension of both the main program and the plug-ins. This means that combination of the GPL-covered plug-in with the non-free main program would violate the GPL.”

      To summarize my position, also as addition to the original blog:

      The app concept is just a programming paradigm to make the source code more modular during the development phase. But during runtime there is no difference between a class located in an app or in the core. They are glued together in one program always running in parallel, as you also pointed out in one of your links. Further they are making function calls to each other and share data structures. That’s why they form one combined work. This is the interpretation of the lawyers associated with the FSF who wrote the license as well as people in the wider legal community. This means, if you are talking about a piece of AGPL code running as part of a greater whole, that the combination as a whole needs to be licensed under the terms of the GNU AGPL.

      My interpretation is thus backed by the authors of the license as well as many international lawyers. Even if there would never be a lawsuit on the topic (often these things are settled behind closed doors with undisclosed sums being paid) I would never recommend anyone to take the legal risk of combining a proprietary server with a AGPL licensed app. Instead everybody should make a informed decision and stick with a solutions which only contains compatible licenses.

  3. Bodenseematze says:

    You say “everything we do is Free Software (also called Open Source), licensed under the terms of the GNU APGLv3.” and that the enterprise licensees of Nextcloud get the same as the “free user”.

    But what about the features you only get as Enterprise user (e.g. the outlook plugin)?
    They are not available for the AGPLv3 users.

    So your sentence about “everything we do is licensed under GNU AGPLv3” is wrong!?

    • Thanks for asking. Everything developed by Nextcloud, which includes the complete server, all server applications, the Android client and the desktop client (where we will contribute more and more over the next months) is completely Free Software and everybody gets the same software. For the iOS app we cooperate with T.W.S. Inc. They already developed a proprietary 3rd party ownCloud client long before Nextcloud exists. Today they develop, together with the community, the Nextcloud iOS client and we worked together with them to release it as Free Software. There is another currently proprietary software from one of our partners which will be soon available as Free Software. So everything we do is Free Software, further we work together with partners where we have a close relationship to open up proprietary software. I consider this a great thing.

      Like the iOS client, the Outlook plug-in is completely independent from Nextcloud and a third party program developed by a independent company. And also like with the iOS client, we partnered because this plug-in brings high value to some of our customers. It is not part of our Enterprise subscription, but has to be purchased separately like Collabora Online for example.

      While we of course can’t tell other companies what license to choose, just like we worked with the iOS team towards a more open product, we do this with other partners, too. I can’t promise this will work that way for the Outlook plug-in, it has to be possible for Assanti, but we will certainly work with them to make it happen if we can.

      The only think we can do: Release everything we do and for which we hold copyright as Free Software, explain this values to our partners and move with them into this direction as well, if they want. I think we did pretty well in this regard in the last 8 months.