Couchbase adopts Business Source License (BSL 1.1) with release of source code to Couchbase Server 7.

Couchbase changes source code license to BSL 1.1

Today we are announcing that Couchbase is changing our source code license from Apache 2.0 to the Business Source License version 1.1 (BSL 1.1). This license allows software providers like Couchbase to control how their source code is commercialized while still publishing the source code to the community. The BSL 1.1 was originally introduced by the founders of MySQL and MariaDB, and first applied to MariaDB products in 2013. It was updated and clarified in 2017 as version 1.1, after consultation and advice from Bruce Perens, co-founder of the Open Source Initiative (OSI).  

BSL 1.1 is a source-available license that sets three tenets to the license, some of which are customizable and specified by each licensor.   

  1. BSL v.1.1 will always allow copying, modification, redistribution, non-commercial use, and commercial use in a non-production context. 
  2. By default, BSL does not allow for production use unless the licensor provides a limited right as an “Additional Use Grant” – this piece is customizable and explained below. 
  3. BSL provides a Change Date usually between one to four years in which the BSL license converts to a Change License that is open source, which can be GNU General Public License (GPL), GNU Affero General Public License (AGPL), Apache, etc.

At Couchbase, we have defined our Additional Use Grant to allow BSL-licensed Couchbase source code to be deployed, for any purpose (e.g. production) as long as you are not (i) creating a commercial derivative work or (ii) offering or including it in a commercial product, application or service (e.g. commercial DBaaS, SaaS). We have set the Change Date to four (4) years, and the Change License to Apache 2.0.

Why Couchbase changed its source code license

We believe that the BSL 1.1 is one of the most fair and transparent approaches available. It allows us to govern commercialization terms of our source code, without compromising non-commercial deployments nor the transparency offered through source availability. We feel that this license is an acceptable compromise between offering open source and proprietary software. Further, because the license reverts to Apache 2.0 after the change date, the BSL 1.1 approach allows our licensing to become more permissive over time, and therefore less restrictive than software vendors that have adopted AGPL, the Commons Clause or the Server-Side Public License (SSPL). 

We feel that the timing of this change aligns well with the forthcoming release of Couchbase 7, which includes a number of capabilities–Scopes and Collections, transaction support within N1QL, and other capabilities which provide an opportunity for us to evolve our licensing approach. 

While we are following the recent announcements by other open source vendors, we are doing so not only to maintain a defensible economic model to fuel our next stage of sustainable growth, but also to maintain market integrity and quality of support provided for our software.  Adopting this license also provides an appropriate amount of time in which the extended community can become familiar with the operation, support, integration and use of our software. 

We expect this to create minimal disruption to the use and adoption of available source code from Couchbase. Readers can continue to our frequently asked questions section to answer other specifics.

Frequently Asked Questions 

Q: Does this affect the packaged editions of your software such as Couchbase Enterprise Edition, Community Edition or Couchbase Cloud

A: No, this only affects Couchbase source code. All of our pre-packaged editions are licensed under Couchbase’s commercial licenses. 

Q: How many customers or open source users of Couchbase does this effect? 

A: We believe that this has no effect on paying customers, as they already license Couchbase under a commercial license. We also believe that this has no effect on existing open source users, who may continue to use that code base under its existing license. It may affect open source users who were planning to use the source code of Couchbase 7. 

Q: What does it mean to create a derivative work for a commercial purpose or offering a derivative work for a fee? 

A: It basically means that you cannot use the Couchbase source code to create a database management offering that you monetize and sell to third parties (i.e. people other than your employees or contractors). 

Q: Are you under threat by any cloud service provider seeking to commercialize your product within their service?  

A: Not to our knowledge, we continue to develop strong partnerships with the major cloud service providers, and we believe this license change should have no effect on these relationships. 

Q: What’s the difference between the BSL and others such as AGPL, SSPL or the addition of Common Clause to agreements? 

A: BSL 1.1 is different in that it is a time-limited license that converts back to an open source license (for us, Apache) after a certain period of time (for us, 4 years). The other options identified restrict certain use cases forever. We feel our approach strikes the best balance between making our source code available and supporting the developer community on the one hand, and protecting our ability to commercialize and support it on the other hand.   BSL 1.1 has been publicly endorsed by prominent figures in the open source community (see below).

Q: What other sources did you consult in making this decision? 

A: We researched this change extensively, and evaluated the publicly-stated opinions of many open source software licensing experts and BSL adopters, including the following: 

Q: Why change now?

A: Couchbase 7 is a breakthrough release that includes highly appealing design changes that may motivate third parties to fork Couchbase source code in order to create their own commercial derivative works without giving back to the developer community. We feel it is in the best interest of the community and our customers to avoid that outcome. 

Q: In four years, after the Change Date, can I make my own commercial product from Couchbase 7 source code under Apache 2.0?  

A: Yes, if you desire.

Q: Is Couchbase still an Open Source company?

A:  Yes, while the BSL 1.1 is not an official open source license approved by the Open Source Initiative (OSI), we still license a large amount of source code under an open source license such as our Software Development Kits and we continue to host Couchbase-related open source projects. Furthermore, the BSL only restricts your use of our source code if you are trying to commercialize it. Finally, after four years, the source code automatically converts to an OSI approved license (Apache 2.0). 

Q: Will Couchbase convert the licenses for its other commercial products –  such as the Autonomous Operator, which is built with and integrates numerous open source products from the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF) like Kubernetes, Prometheus, FluentD, Istio, etc. – to the BSL?

A: This is under consideration, but no decision is imminent. 

Q: Who else uses the BSL beyond MariaDB, and what are their Additional Use Grants, Change Dates and Change License terms? How does Couchbase compare?

A: MariaDB introduced the BSL in 2013, with updates in 2017.  Other vendors who have adopted it include CockroachDB (NewSQL database), (application monitoring), Materialize (data integration) and ZeroTier (network security), among others. 



Posted by Scott Anderson

Scott brings more than 20 years of experience in finance, operations, product management, and general management to Couchbase. As SVP of Product Management and Business Operations, he is responsible for driving Couchbase’s product and solution strategy, product roadmap, pricing strategy, competitive strategy, documentation, and development advocacy. Most recently he was SVP and GM of a $1.5B business at Veritas, where he spent 15 years in various positions. Prior to then, he spent eight years at Oracle serving in various finance and business operations roles. Scott holds a bachelor’s degree in Business and Finance from the University of the Pacific.

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