Redis Labs Modules Forked

Oct 17, 2018

New Commons Clause license rider causes Debian and Fedora developers to fork Redis Labs modules.

As expected, developers from the desktop projects Fedora and Debian have forked the modules that database vendor Redis Labs put under the Commons Clause.

The Commons Clause is an extra license rider that prohibits the user from "selling" the software, and "selling" is defined to include selling services such as hosting and consulting. According to Redis Labs and the creators of the Commons Clause, the rider was created to prevent huge hosting companies like Amazon from using the code without contributing to the project. Unfortunately, the license also has the effect of making the Redis Labs modules incompatible with the open source licenses used with Linux and other FOSS projects.

To fix the problem, Debian and Fedora came together to fork these modules. Nathan Scott, Principal Software Engineer at Red Hat, wrote on a Google Group, “...we have begun collaborating on a set of module repositories forked from prior to the license change. We will maintain changes to these modules under their original open source licenses, applying only free and open fixes and updates.”

It was an expected move. When license changes are made to any open source project, often some open source community jumps in and forks the project to keep a version fully compatible with the earlier open source license. The fork means commercial vendors like Amazon will still be able to use these modules without contributing anything to Redis Labs or the newly forked project. However, not all forks are successful. It’s not the license that matters. What matters is the expertise of the developers who write and maintain the codebase. Google once forked Linux for Android, but eventually ended up merging with the mainline kernel.

In a previous interview, Redis Labs told me that they were not sure whether adding the Commons Clause to these licenses would work or not; they already tried the Affero GPL (AGPL)  license, which is also designed to address the so-called application service provider loophole that allows cloud vendors to avoid contributing back their changes, but the move to the AGPL didn’t help them get vendors like Amazon to contribute.

Redis Labs added the Commons Clause to only those modules that their staff wrote; there is no change to the modules written by external parties.

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