Funding an open source project and maintaining an organization to sustain that
project is a challenge. We've chosen an open-core model which means we have an
MIT licensed open core, GitLab Community Edition (CE), and an extended GitLab
Enterprise Edition (EE) for which we sell a license key to use. In this post
we will look at the Fair Source license.
One of the key issues with commercializing open source software is licensing.
There are great examples of open source licenses which allow code to be viewable
and modifiable. There are many examples of proprietary licenses which protect
intellectual property and don't even allow users to view the source code.
However, what license is appropriate for a project like GitLab in which users can view
the EE code, but pay to use it?
The Fair Source license aims to address that. On Fair.io
the license is summarized:
"The Fair Source License allows everyone to see the source code and makes the
software free to use for a limited number of users in your organization.
It offers some of the benefits of open source while preserving the ability to
charge for the software."
Recently my colleague, Sytse met Quinn Slack,
co-founder and CEO of Sourcegraph which pioneered the Fair Source license. He
suggested we should review this.
At GitLab we have taken a close look at the Fair Source license
to determine if it could apply to our situation. We are very supportive of the
Fair Source license and business model and believe that it will have broad acceptance
into the market.
We evaluated the Fair Source license for use with our Enterprise offering. In this
case there could be an application of the Fair Use license - i.e. allow up to a
certain number of users to use the product for free and then charging users once
they exceed a threshold. We already have a CE version that is used by more than
100,000 organizations, in many cases with thousands of users. Given that we already
have a CE product, a free evaluation period and a free GitLab.com offering we felt
that introducing yet another model for using GitLab would create too much confusion
in the market.
In other aspects of licensing we have embraced the principles of the Fair Source
license through allowing users to modify and publish patch releases both as fully
licensed customers which includes those users covered by an evaluation license.
We are open to suggestions on how we can do better on our
Enterprise Edition Source License.