Making the Business Source License Open Source Compliant

A couple of weeks ago we posted an article about MariaDB’s new Business Source License.

The BSL itself is so new that it needs to be tested in the wild a few times to figure out how effective it will be, fortunately, the MariaDB team is willing to run those tests and is starting with its MaxScale 2.1 product to expand the usefulness of the MariaDB ecosystem.

All that being said, there were some questions surrounding the claims about the license being “Open Source” when it was first announced, and because of that, Bruce Perens, co-founder of the Open Source Initiative, took a look at the license and helped tweak it to better fit the ideals of the Open Source Definition.

Not against $

You might think that the godfather of the worldwide push for Open Source was against money making schemes surrounding open development, but in the article, Perens says that he was sympathetic to the purposes of the MariaDB team in making the BSL.

He also declared that “Making Open Source shouldn’t mean you wear a hair shirt and live on handouts, while your users, often the biggest companies on Wall Street, rake in the dough”.

This lends credence to the concept that Open Source might have to find a way to live in an environment where the newest developments are pay to play initially, but that pay period has a clear expiration date.

Lack of clarity

A lack of clarity, in fact, was the biggest fault that Perens found in the BSL. The parameterization (which initially seems like an issue of freedom for the licensor) is a danger, he points out, because saying that a project is BSL 1.0 would mean virtually nothing to the users of the project.

The transition type, timeline, and commercial limitation were entirely up to the project’s discretion, even to the point that the license might transition to a non-Open-Source license after being commercially available at an exorbitant cost in the BSL environment.

The comparison he offers is to the Creative Commons licenses, which are not clear in what they mean, and each must be read in its entirety to understand the rights and limitations it offers.

A few changes required

Working with the MariaDB team, Perens was able to clarify some of these issues, and still allow freedom for the BSL licensor to provide their own terms. The transition would need to occur within four years, to a GPL 2.0 or some other better Open Source licenses, and have a baseline grant of usage rights (that can only be expanded upon).

These changes help to ensure that the license is Open Source compliant and that a common understanding of what was meant by a project being BSL is achieved.

In the end

With these changes in mind, the BSL 1.1 has Bruce Perens’s endorsement, and his declaration that it “will be a good way for developers to get paid while eventually making their works Open Source”.

MariaDB, for their part, has embraced these changes and worked to reduce mention of the 1.0 version of the license in order to favor the improved 1.1 version they are using for their MaxScale 2.1 product.

While the jury is still out on how effective this strategy will be, the BSL 1.1 provides a new avenue for Open Source development teams to grow and expand their products, and not have to worry about begging for handouts at the same time.

If you’d like to test this license out for your project, check out the documentation about adopting and developing the license from MariaDB.

About the author


Written by a community member, a reader who is not part of the It's FOSS writing team. The views and opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect that of It's FOSS.

Become a Better Linux User

With the FOSS Weekly Newsletter, you learn useful Linux tips, discover applications, explore new distros and stay updated with the latest from Linux world


Great! You’ve successfully signed up.

Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.

You've successfully subscribed to It's FOSS.

Success! Check your email for magic link to sign-in.

Success! Your billing info has been updated.

Your billing was not updated.