Open Source License: LINAGORA's choices explainedJune 11 2021
If you are here reading this blog, you must be already aware of what open-source software is. But for the uninitiated, open-source software is software with source code that anyone can inspect, modify, and enhance. You can read more about it here.
LINAGORA is an open-source company and is a firm believer in free and ethical open-source software since its inception in 2000. After the turbulent effects of the COVID pandemic, we have a unified company mission to make GOOD Tech - free, ethical, and open-source software to make the world a better place by having a maximum positive impact on people, society, and the planet.
We develop open-source software like Twake (The open digital workplace), LinShare (Secure open-source enterprise file sharing) and Linto (end-to-end open-source platform for voice solutions) among many others. Since they are free and open-source you can download your own instance from our Github page and deploy them immediately.
Why do we have Additional Terms in our open-source Software Licenses?
LINAGORA requires the use of trademarks, notices, and attributions for its software, and their applications, modifications, and distributions. Some members of our open-source community have expressed concerns about these additional terms. They believe that these directly contradict not only the open-source principles of freedom and collaboration but also the LINAGORA mission statement. But the reality is that the use of these additional terms is necessary to ensure that broader freedom exists for everyone.
Our Motivation to include these additional terms
There have been countless instances of the abuse and misuse of open-source software in the past, which could have been avoided if trademarks had been effectively used to defend it. LINAGORA has also faced similar issues in the past where other companies used most of our software code and removed all references to LINAGORA or tried to re-package and sell our software solutions as their own. Our R&D engineers have spent an infinite amount of time developing these software programs and it can be extremely disheartening for them when someone steals the recognition that they rightly deserve.
The effects of open-source trademarks and their absence are not intuitive, and by the time a related issue arises, it is often too late to solve it, due to the central role of timing in trademark litigation. Neither the terms “Open Source” nor “Free Software” are themselves trademarked, which allows anyone to use them the way they want. Some companies have regularly exploited this to compromise public understanding of the original meaning of freedom conveyed by these words.
The best example of this can be taken from the legal tussle between Elastic and AWS, which also prompted Elastic from changing its relatively open business model to a controversial new license model based on a combination of Server Side Public License and Elastic License , designed to make it difficult for cloud companies to sell managed versions of the open-source projects they are applied to.
“I’m very worried about [alienating community members]; this is why we didn’t make this change lightly”, said Shay Banon (Elastic CEO). “Regardless of how much we try to relax our user base, some people will end up being alienated, and others, which I am more worried about, might be fed by FUD”, the tried-and-true “fear, uncertainty and doubt” campaigns that have been part of enterprise tech marketing for decades.
Therefore, we at LINAGORA are using these additional terms early and often in our products to avoid issues for users and ourselves later on.
What are the advantages of trademarks?
Many people think of FREEDOM as freedom of doing what they like with no obstacles or restrictions. Some people can abuse that kind of freedom to do things that are detrimental to society, for example, in extreme cases, felony or murder. This concept is well articulated in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy as positive vs. negative freedom.
Trademarks put constraints on this kind of negative freedom to give positive freedom to the majority of the users and contributors. In theory, trademarks protect the freedom of the majority by constraining the freedom of a minority of people who would use it to abuse the concept of open-source software and the principles of freedom and collaboration associated with it. In practice, trademarks prevent abuse of our open-source software by avoiding such problems as:
- Bad quality of software released under our name.
- No brand recognition due to the absence of branding and trademarks.
- Companies lying about endorsements and support from LINAGORA.
- False attribution of bad behavior to us.
- No distinction between the two editions of a software fork.
- Lack of recognition about how innovative our features are as compared to competing systems.
By the time, someone has abused our trademarks, new trademarks cannot be registered to help. Hearkening back to the trademark litigation case between Elastic and AWS.
Trademarks must be registered early and actively asserted and defended to have a legal meaning. In many countries, whoever registers a particular name or image first gets to own it forever.
What can you and cannot do with our license?
In essence, the additional terms in our license mandate the users of our code to comply with three important requirements:
- Do not delete our copyright notices.
- If you distribute our software (modified or not), you are supposed to keep our license.
- Adhere to our reinforced publicity clause.
Since we work mostly with communication software, basically having our signature notice in the email and messages footers and interface is a way for us to ensure that people using a possibly revamped version of our software hear about us, and are encouraged to make inquiries and get in touch with us.
Please note that signature notice is mandatory for outbound messages and emails, however, if you are using our software to only send internal mails within your company or enterprise, it is not required for every mail or message to have a signature notice. For companies using our software who want to completely customize the interface with their own brands/logos/messages, we do grant a special dispensation through our corporate support contracts.
The original AGPL V3 license says a lot about copyright but does not say much about trademark and branding. We are trying to avoid people associating our trademark brand with illegal stuff. We also do not want people to market a million lines of code long project as LINAGORA software (which would indicate that we did it all) whereas all they did was to integrate a single source file from one of the LINAGORA projects. Forking is great, as long as it’s clear that the fork is based on LINAGORA software but not made by LINAGORA.
The core idea behind these additional terms is to restrict companies from making profits by using our software, code, or brand name without any consent or agreement from LINAGORA. LINAGORA usually grants temporary authorization not to comply with this clause to non-profit organizations, charities, certain open-source communities on a case-to-case basis. If you have a specific re(use) of our software in mind, please get in touch with us and we can discuss further.
What constitutes as harmful to LINAGORA brands and trademarks?
If you are actively using our branding and trademarks to defame LINAGORA or any of our software then that is considered harmful to the brand value of LINAGORA. For example, if you use our source code to create malware and distribute it with LINAGORA branding and trademark then that will be considered damaging to the brand value of LINAGORA. However, we do not hold the absolute power to pull the license from someone at will based on the trademark provision of the license, just because that someone, let’s say, likes pineapple slices on their pizza. And you can still use our trademark for completely legitimate purposes such as for example keeping the required copyright notices while sharing copies of our software.
Open-source software should not be at a disadvantage to proprietary solutions or vulnerable to exploitation. To promote the use of open-source software, we must act now to protect our collective interest and investment. Adding these additional terms to our open-source license is a legitimate and necessary means of doing so, without affecting product copying, improvements, or deploying. It is not a change of heart by LINAGORA over the principles of free software and open-source distribution, as LINAGORA strongly believes in the free and open-source distribution of its software.
Free and open-source software warrants easy and reasonable access to software innovation to large user communities and LINAGORA is highly committed to supporting free and open-source software whenever possible.
We believe that these additional terms enable us to protect the innovative solutions that our R&D team is building with extensive support from the open-source community, with the ultimate goal of ensuring the sustainability of our free and open-source software.