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When I was working through a problem I was having with MinIO, I noticed that in a bug report on Github, one of the project owners made this comment to a bug reporter:

Also remember if you are using MinIO AGPLv3 version under commercial project you are violating the licensing terms here.

You are advised to get a subscription from us to get a license exception from us https://min.io/pricing

(source: https://github.com/minio/minio/issues/13137#issuecomment-912069897)

This does not sound accurate to me. Based on my understanding of AGPL, it exists to prevent GPL software from hiding behind a SaaS wall - an AGPL product that's offered as a service must also have its source code available, since offering access via a website could be deemed as not "distributing" the application and thus possibly not triggering the GPL source code availability requirement.

But this comment seems to imply that MinIO's developers are stating that if you simply use MinIO itself in a commercial context, you must purchase a commercial license.

The person reporting this bug didn't really get too deep into their usage scenario in the parts that I read, but to me simply using MinIO as a backend for S3-compatible storage in a project shouldn't run afoul of the AGPL.

I also know that users of normal GPL software often become confused as to whether simply using a GPL program in the context of a larger program (e.g. using FFMPEG within a commercial video platform) requires the entire project to be GPL - the general consensus seems to be that if you're using a "public" interface (e.g. you're executing the FFMPEG binary from your project, but you're not compiling or integrating FFMPEG directly into your code) then you should be fine using GPL binaries in a commercial application.

Does the same apply to the AGPL? In this context, if someone is using MinIO to provide an S3 storage backend for a commercial project, other than making the MinIO source available, does that organization have to 1) AGPL their entire project, or 2) purchase a commercial license from MinIO, in order to be in compliance? Assuming you are not modifying MinIO at all, you're simply running a copy of it and accessing its public API (in this case, S3) from your own application, I fail to understand how using MinIO in a commercial project could be "violating the license terms".

So, does this mean that MinIO is possibly violating the AGPL itself by trying to coerce users into purchasing a commercial license? It's perfectly fine to offer multiple licenses, but as I understand it the user always has the choice which license to use; the AGPL expressly allows commercial use of an AGPL project, so other than that MinIO can refuse to provide any extra services to such a user, I don't see how it's a "violation" of the license. If this bug poster chooses to use the AGPL version in a commercial context, the worst that should seem to happen is the user is not entitled to any SLA or support - the dev could close the issue as "we won't address this since you're commercial" - but that still isn't a violation of the license.

TL;dr: Is it valid for a provider of an application with a dual license model (AGPL and paid commercial) to coerce or "force" users to purchase a commercial license if they are using the AGPL version in a commercial context, assuming the user is abiding by the AGPL itself by offering source for all AGPL code they are using?

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    While I think this is a good and interesting question, I’m voting to close this question because it would be much better on Law SE as it is fundamentally about the misrepresentation of the license requirements than the open source nature. Jul 30 at 6:11
  • "So, does this mean that MinIO is possibly violating the AGPL itself by trying to [strongly advise, strongly encourage, etc.] users into purchasing a commercial license?" -- I think the answer to that part is "no" for various verbs that you can place inside the square brackets. Yes, they can do lots of things to try to convince you to purchase a commercial license, even if you don't need one. Possibly, they could even purposefully mislead you in order to convince you to purchase one. But this kind of discussion is best for Law.SE, as already mentioned.
    – Brandin
    Aug 3 at 13:28

1 Answer 1

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You have found some code that is released under AGPL, but the supplier says that commercial use isn't permitted. Like us, you're aware that a licence cannot be both free (as per the FSF's definitions, and ours) and prohibit commercial activities. You wonder what's going on.

In my experience, there are generally two scenarios that pan out like this. One is that the company says it's releasing its product under (eg) GPL, but the licence is in fact a modified version of the GPL, or GPL plus additional conditions, or some other way to try to weasel out of the freedoms they're supposed to be giving. The other is that the company really has released under a free licence, but hasn't fully understood what that means.

In this case, their GitHub site is clear that the licence is AGPLv3; their LICENSE page contains the AGPLv3 text, verbatim, and GitHub have even helpfully added a summary at the top that says commercial use is permitted. So I conclude that this is an example of scenario two: the company simply doesn't realise that they can't prohibit commercial use of the code they have so released.

What will happen when they do realise is anyone's guess. If the company is the sole rightsholder, they may simply pull the code, or change the licence; so you might be well-advised to take your own copy of this source, under the current terms, now.

tl;dr: no.

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  • It seems like a common confusion in terminology. I see that the page min.io/pricing consistently refers to the non-AGPL licenses on offer as "commercial" licenses, which unfortunately seems to be a common misnomer to refer to any proprietary license. The problem with that misnomer is that the (A)GPL license then therefore gets considered as the "non" commercial license by contrast, even though (A)GPL indeed allows commercial use (with requirements of source code delivery).
    – Brandin
    Aug 4 at 6:31
  • I hear you, but the quoted comment in the GitHub issue (which I think is from one of the company team) is much less ambiguous. The company really does express the view that use of their product in a commercial project violates AGPLv3, which is simply not true.
    – MadHatter
    Aug 4 at 7:34

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