Debian Takes AGPL Software into Main

Dec 04, 2008

The FTP team at the Debian project have decided that the Affero GPL version 3 licensing (AGPLv3) is consistent enough with the guidelines of the Linux distro that software with the licensing can go into Debian's main archive.

FTP master Joerg Jaspert reported in the Debian news mailing list that a working group met in Spain the end of November and decided to include AGPLv3 licensed software in Debian's main archive.

The GNU Affero Public License tries to get around an issue that the usual GPL doesn't address: many in the Internet age use free server and web service software that doesn't reside on their computers. Google and Yahoo are among the largest users of free software. Under previous GPL terms they could adapt this software for their own use and commercialize it, and users would have rights to the source code only when running the software residing on their systems. The AGPL has an additional paragraph, "Remote Network Interaction; Use with the GNU General Public License," that gives users rights to remote source code as well.

This licensing has been an ongoing discussion at Debian, including in wishlist bug reports. The Debian project has been following its own social contract, primarily addressed in the Debian Free Software Guidelines (DFSG). Debian releases only software in its Linux distro that falls under these guidelines. Conflicts arose, for example, around Mozilla's trademarks on for Firefox and Thunderbird.

With the usual licensing in place, Debian feared that embedded AGPL software could be too much of a cost and trouble for users. The FTP team therefore came to the conclusion that this usage cost was not "a severe enough problem to restrict the freeness of a work licensed under AGPL," citing that running network services are already enough of a cost. They argued that source code distribution costs over the Internet are fairly low to begin with. Also, sources can come from free software repositories such as Alioth, Savannah and SourceForge instead of from one's own servers.

The FTP team's decision opens the way for AGPLv3 software to enter Debian's main archive, unless the Debian project comes up with another plan or contradictory Grand Resolution.

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