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I'm trying to understand the difference between the SSPL and the GNU AGPL license, after reading the terms of SSPL.

The 13th clause of the license states the following:

If you make the functionality of the Program or a modified version available to third parties as a service, you must make the Service Source Code available via network download to everyone at no charge, under the terms of this License. Making the functionality of the Program or modified version available to third parties as a service includes, without limitation, enabling third parties to interact with the functionality of the Program or modified version remotely through a computer network, offering a service the value of which entirely or primarily derives from the value of the Program or modified version, or offering a service that accomplishes for users the primary purpose of the Program or modified version.

“Service Source Code” means the Corresponding Source for the Program or the modified version, and the Corresponding Source for all programs that you use to make the Program or modified version available as a service, including, without limitation, management software, user interfaces, application program interfaces, automation software, monitoring software, backup software, storage software and hosting software, all such that a user could run an instance of the service using the Service Source Code you make available.

I'm not sure if I understand correctly the point, but this what I'm thinking:

  1. Under the GNU AGPL:

    • It is legal to create a proprietary program B that uses AGPL-licensed program A over a local network N1.
    • It is legal that program B provides a service S to an end-user over network N2.
    • It is legal to modify the program A without sharing changes, since A is connected to N1 and the end-user is provided with the service S under different network N2.
  2. The new SSPL license fixes the gaps above, in order to grant a pure open-source service implementation without any proprietary counterpart.

Is my analogy correct? Is there other differences?

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The AGPL requires that the people interacting with program A over a network have the right (and possibility) to obtain a copy of the source code of A. The AGPL does not strictly define what interaction over a network means and if it includes indirect interaction via program B.

It can be argued that interaction with a program means that your actions as a user cause a reaction in that program, even if the action was initially done on another program. This would mean that if program B just forwards the user interactions to program A, then it can be argued that the user is actually interacting with program A. On the other hand, if the requests from B to A can not be directly related to user actions, then the user probably not interacting with A.

The SSPL license indeed tries to close the gap that a copyleft program can be used in the background without giving out the sources.
If that is actually successful remains to be seen, because the SSPL license seems to step outside the realm of copyright. The SSPL license puts requirements on programs that are completely unrelated in terms of copyrights and it remains to be seen if that clause will actually be upheld in a court of law.
For example, if you have a web-application that uses MongoDB and runs on Microsoft's IIS as webserver, then clause 13 of the SSPL requires that you provide the source code of IIS even though IIS is in no way derived from code that is copyrighted by the authors of MongoDB.

  • "SSPL license seems to step outside the realm of copyright" Why do you think so? – Kais Mar 2 at 22:17
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    @kais Because the SSPL requires distribution of source code for applications that are unrelated in terms of copyright – Bart van Ingen Schenau Mar 3 at 9:49
  • Unrelated to what? I really don't understand, because these applications should be subject to these licensing terms since they make use of the copyrighted open-source code. – Kais Mar 3 at 13:23
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    @Kais If you provide a web-application that uses MongoDB under the SSPL and runs on Microsoft's IIS, then clause 13 of the SSPL requires that you provide the source code of IIS. Even though IIS is not in any way derived from code that is copyrighted by the authors of MongoDB. – Bart van Ingen Schenau Mar 3 at 15:39
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    @BartvanIngenSchenau this specific example would suit the answer well. – Tim Mar 3 at 16:46

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