Affero GPL made for software as a service

The Free Software Foundation has launched a licence designed for a situation the regular GPL doesn't address

The Affero General Public License, a new variation of the seminal GPL, is now final. It is designed specifically for a situation the regular GPL doesn't address.

The Affero GPL contains a provision for situations when software it governs is accessible as a service over a network. Where the GPL (General Public License) treats that situation as a private use of software, permitting the user to keep any changes private, the Affero GPL lets programmers include a requirement that users of the software must be able to download it when it's offered as a network service.

The Free Software Foundation, the organisation founded by Richard Stallman in the 1980s to bypass the proprietary constraints of the traditional software world, published the new software licence on Monday after releasing draft versions earlier this year.

The Affero GPL could be relevant for companies such as Google that use customised open-source software to run massive online businesses with no requirement for sharing. However, intellectual property attorney Eben Moglen, who helped craft GPLv3, said other pressure can be brought to bear if companies take advantage of GPL software without reciprocating.

"If you want to protect your business model, you must be model citizens of the environment. If you shrink, political pressure will grow to constrain your rights to secure the rights of everyone else," Moglen said in May. "Upon the behaviour of Google much depends."

The FSF had contemplated adding the ability to run software-as-a-service (SaaS) to GPLv3, but chose instead to release the separate licence. Adding yet another licence to the profusion already available to free and open-source programmers can complicate licensing choices, but the FSF said that code written under the GPL and the Affero GPL may be combined in some circumstances.

The FSF's Affero announcement can be found on its website