Changelog Interviews Changelog Interviews #429

Community perspectives on Elastic vs AWS

This week we’re talking about the recent falling out between Elastic and AWS around the relicensing of Elasticsearch and Kibana. Like many in the community, we have been watching this very closely.

Here’s the tldr for context. On January 21st, Elastic posted a blog post sharing their concerns with Amazon/AWS misleading and confusing the community, saying “They have been doing things that we think are just NOT OK since 2015 and it has only gotten worse.” This lead them to relicense Elasticsearch and Kibana with a dual license, a proprietary license and the Sever Side Public License (SSPL). AWS responded two days later stating that they are “stepping up for a truly open source Elasticsearch,” and shared their plans to create and maintain forks of Elasticsearch and Kibana based on the latest ALv2-licensed codebases.

There’s a ton of detail and nuance beneath the surface, so we invited a handful of folks on the show to share their perspective. On today’s show you’ll hear from: Adam Jacob (co-founder and board member of Chef), Heather Meeker (open-source lawyer and the author of the SSPL license), Manish Jain (founder and CTO at Dgraph Labs), Paul Dix (co-founder and CTO at InfluxDB), VM (Vicky) Brasseur (open source & free software business strategist), and Markus Stenqvist (everyday web dev from Sweden).


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2021-02-18T10:56:40Z ago

Heather Meeker’s assertion that MongoDB’s (and hers) SSPL submission to OSI was withdrawn without it being rejected, is not a lie - barely. Its what we call weasel wording, or sometimes “legalspeak”: the submission was withdrawn when it was becoming clear that the OSI is going to reject it, in an attempt to prevent a ruling on the substance of the SSPL, but rule on it they did: “The SSPL is Not an Open Source License”.

Claiming that it was not clearly ruled that the SSPL is not an open source license is misleading at best and a blatant lie say worst.

2021-02-18T13:01:53Z ago

The rest of the Heather Meeker interview continues with the same level of “weaseling”:

  • The OSI discussion was either “meta” (read “not substantial”) or “technical” (read “oh, those nerds with their ‘technicalities’”), then Heather went on to discuss how the “meta” discussion was not relevant. This is the straw man fallacy: she just ignored the “technical” discussion where it was pointed out how discriminatory the SSPL is.
  • If GPL “restriction on distribution” is OK then SSPL’s restrictions on use should also be OK. This is the false equivalence fallacy: the OSD specifically forbids restrictions on distribution as part of an aggregate - and not in any other way - but the discrimination language on use is very explicit.
  • The OSD forbids discrimination against “field of use”, but “software as a service” is not a field of use and therefor discrimination is allowed (??). This is the difinist fallacy - one of the “field of use” OSD mentions as an example is “business”, which is very broad and another is “genetic research” which is rather narrow, so clearly any classification of use is considered a “field”. Also the OSD forbids discrimination against any “group of people” - so very clearly any discrimination is forbidden.
  • Copyright is broken because it allows a user to make multiple copies (!?). I’m not even going to start with that.
Adam Stacoviak

Adam Stacoviak

Austin, TX

Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Changelog

2021-02-18T17:20:00Z ago

Thanks @guss77 for sharing those thoughts. Lots of nuance in the mix here for sure.

I’d love to hear more from you here in the comments on what Adam and others shared in this episode.

2021-02-18T21:48:50Z ago

I think Adam had a lot of excellent points (I liked his comparison of “open source business model” to “devops engineer” - I apparently share his chagrin of the later term and that helped me a lot to understand what he meant 😀). Paul, I think, said a lot of the same things.

I didn’t appreciate Markus Stenqvist opinion - when detailing his reasons for liking open source, he started by “I like to get things for free”, which I think is a really lousy attitude for open source enthusiasts. Given that, his opinion that ElasticSearch were bullied by AWS into changing their license, is not surprising.

I think Brasseur’s analysis is very interesting and advocates of both sides should consider it - regardless who you think it morally right here, the ElasticSearch move is really problematic for users of its software under the free license.

Personally, I think the situation is lousy, but it is basically a commercial conflict - AWS has rev-share contracts in place with some open source projects they use, so it is safe to assume they were in commercial negotiations with both MongoDB and ElasticSearch - so the only reason these made the license change move, I believe, is because AWS wanted to give them something, but less than what they wanted and they couldn’t come to an agreement. I think if people knew for sure that this is all fallout from a commercial dispute, people who have very critical opinions about one side or the other - would likely change their minds.

2021-02-21T19:10:38Z ago

I started listening to this ep assuming I’d be siding with elastic against the gorilla. But I ended by checking with version of elastic I’m using, cuz I don’t want to be on 7.11!

Jerod Santo

Jerod Santo

Omaha, Nebraska

Jerod co-hosts The Changelog, crashes JS Party, and takes out the trash (his old code) once in awhile.

2021-02-21T22:53:03Z ago

Hah! Curious, who (and which points specifically) shifted your thoughts on the matter?

2021-02-22T00:38:15Z ago

Paul Dix and Vicky Brasseur were both very persuasive. I think it was Paul Dix’s point that it’s pretty weak to change the license because another business is out-competing you on your core commercial offering. I sympathize that SO MANY businesses are out-competed by amazon (in general), but it’s still a great point. I like that he’s built competition into InfluxDB’s business model. I’m curious to see how that goes. I actually think I can use 7.11 w/o any licensing issues, but who knows what else they could change in the future.

2021-02-22T09:59:04Z ago

I think the main issue I have with the SSPL is that the clause 13 definition of what is “mak[ing] the functionality of the Program or a modified version available to third parties as a service” may be subjective in a lot of cases, the ELK one especially: if I offer a data analytics service based on ELK, with optimizations for specific use cases - how far do I need to get away from Kibana and some trivial configurations to escape clause 13?

One might argue that there isn’t any and if you want compete with Datadog, Sumologic, or any of the other players then you need to either buy a commercial license or use AWS’s fork - regardless of how much new value you think you bring to the table.

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