Open Source Licensing: SugarCRM’s original way to abide the GPL

After discussing why SugarCRM would have no reason to adopt the AGPL, yesterday I happened to download the Sugar Community Edition from the download page. The About page let me wonder about a possible attribution loophole in the GPLv3.

New lightA new light by MumbleyJoe

Some licensing background first. Here an excerpt from the About page of the Sugar Community Edition 5.0:

The interactive user interfaces in modified source and object code versions of this program must display Appropriate Legal Notices, as required under Section 5 of the GNU General Public License version 3.

In accordance with Section 7(b) of the GNU General Public License version 3, these Appropriate Legal Notices must retain the display of the “Powered by SugarCRM” logo. If the display of the logo is not reasonably feasible for technical reasons, the Appropriate Legal Notices must display the words “Powered by SugarCRM”.

Surprisingly it looks almost like the previous version of the about page (courtesy of Koder search engine):

All copies of the Covered Code must include on each user interface screen:
(i) the “Powered by SugarCRM” logo and
(ii) the SugarCRM copyright notice
in the same form as they appear in the distribution.See full license for requirements.

I am not a lawyer, but f I got it right, Section 7 of the GNU GPL version 3 permits modifications to the license for certain terms. Section 7 (b) asserts that for material you add to a covered work, you may supplement the terms of this License with terms:

b) Requiring preservation of specified reasonable legal notices or author attributions in that material or in the Appropriate Legal Notices displayed by works containing it;

Section 7 became a viable tool to reintroduce somehow the attribution addendum contained in the SugarCRM Public license (Exhibit A).

The question is: is requiring a logo a reasonable author attribution? I presume this is the case, at least in Eben Moglen‘s opinion. Moglen in his “SugarCRM’s Sweet Taste of Freedom” stated that SugarCRM is to be applauded, and I believe he knew already what I just found myself.

Badgeware is not only OSI approved, but it is also endorsed by the Free Software Foundation now, with its flagship license. The debate is over.

Back to my analysis about SugarCRM’s licensing strategy, it is now clear that SugarCRM and SugarCRM’s VCs do still care a lot about brand protection. Their unique selling points are really strong, but as a matter of fact they found a way to accomplish both goals: branding and the adoption of a much more compatible license.

Kudos to SugarCRM’s lawyers to sort it out.

Technorati Tags: oss, open business, commercial open source, sugarCRM, GPL, FSF, OSI

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10 thoughts on “Open Source Licensing: SugarCRM’s original way to abide the GPL

  1. Interesting note but you miss a big point, GPL3 does not address the distribution of software over the internet. The terms in the license address distribution or re-distribution by the old methods. Google re-distributes MySql over the web and is not bound to submit their modifications back to MySql. We could all make significant additions to SugarCRM and host the advances with no need to submit them back to the community. We could even host SugarCRM and offer it for free. The cost of hosting has gone down significantly, do I smell a advertising model ? I may host SugarCRM for free just for the heck of it. My company does some modifications and we’ll have a better CRM solution and no need to share this with SugarCRM.

    SugarCRM made a big mistake!!!! I am not sure why you are looking to rationalize bad decisions by a company that should have been smarter. This was a critical mistake and will affect their future!

  2. Johan,

    I have extensively talked about the GPL loophole before, that’s why I didn’t mention it here.

    SugarCRM has some unique selling points (see the above mentioned post), and it is definitely not trivial to spoil their business.

    About SugarCRM’s strategy, I must tell you that I am quite impressed by their community: they look pretty smart, honestly.

  3. Hello Robert,

    Thank you for the reply but I still see tremendous exposure for SugarCRM. On a big picture level, I really don’t see how they can go public and file an S-1 listing the business risks and have anyone back their offering. The hosting of SugarCRM for free with focused updates that make “my version” a better solution would be a killer for them. Keep in mind they would be burdened with the heavy lifting of the core system whereas my “company” could focus on additional features. That is a big benefit for me and to Sugar’s detriment.

  4. What does “original way to abide the GPL” mean?
    I can’t think of the word you really meant instead of “abide.”

  5. It is pretty original because no one took publicly advantage of the section 7 of the GPLv3 for this purpose yet.

  6. I must agree with Johan’s comment, the GPL3 licensing approach or interpretation of it by SugarCRM is quiet questionable indeed. It is a scary accommodation for anybody planning to use this project in the long term. And the question remains… what and when will be the next amendment made…

    It appears like a big contradiction where one extensive use of available source code and ideas has very little ‘reconnaissance’ in regards to its ‘sub’ stance . What about the amazing community of contributors which has helped SugarCRM expand upon its grand business scheme? Base on its licensing condition, I could just imagine what it would look like if all the ingenuous creators had little icons showing what they did or come up with on SugarCRM.

    As an organization SugarCRM has the merit for good integration of LAMP. One must also admit its marketing attraction strength which brings common richness to all with a lite subtle condition to its use. But one must wonder what this tiny little licensing condition might hold for the future?

  7. Michel I think it is important to sort out if it is the GPL3 licensing approach or interpretation of it by SugarCRM. What I am saying, and I am not alone, is that the Free Software Foundation, Eben Moglen and open source attorneys like Mark Radcliffe they all know that.

    I am not convinced that it is a scary accommodation, on the contrary I firmly believe it doesn’t make free software less free.
    Quoting you:

    What about the amazing community of contributors which has helped SugarCRM expand upon its grand business scheme? Base on its licensing condition, I could just imagine what it would look like if all the ingenuous creators had little icons showing what they did or come up with on SugarCRM.

    Attribution probably is not the best ever solution, but it sounds like the most appropriate when we talk of corporate production model.

    Democracy does not guarantee equality of conditions – it only guarantees equality of opportunity (Irving Kristol).

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