Time to meet up with legal again: Elastic simplifies its home-brewed licence

Elastic License v2

Teams left puzzled by last month’s announcement of Elasticsearch and Kibana changing licences might have a new reason to consult legal, as the company behind both projects has come up with an updated version of the Elastic License. 

As hinted at in late January, Elastic CEO Shay Banon now presented a “simplified and more permissive” Elastic License v2 (ELv2) in a blog post. The new version was apparently written in collaboration with open source software licensing specialist Heather Meeker, who also helped MongoDB with its SSPL, was part of the drafting team for version 2.0 of the Mozilla Public License, and represented Google in their disputes with Oracle over API package use in Android. 

The indeed somewhat easier-to-read licence text grants users the right to “use, copy, distribute, make available, and prepare derivative works of the software,” though they aren’t allowed to provide the product to others as a hosted or managed service. They also “may not move, change, disable, or circumvent the license key functionality in the software, and you may not remove or obscure any functionality in the software that is protected by the license key.” Altering, removing or obscuring licensing, copyright, or other notices is forbidden as well.

While some onlookers liked the clarification regarding service providers (“where the service provides users with access to any substantial set of the features or functionality of the software”), there’s still some uncertainty around what will happen to organisations managing Elastic clusters for individual customers as part of a larger IT infrastructure management contract. The use case isn’t exactly uncommon amongst consulting agencies, for example, so an official clarification in the company’s FAQs would be helpful to ensure peace of mind.

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That being said, Banon hopes for ELv2 to become adopted by other organisations, as he believes it incorporates the “learnings from our experience and others who have made similar changes”. 

He added: “I hope that over time, those of us with similar goals can coalesce around a smaller number of licenses and that ELv2 will be a catalyst for that.”

The licence update doesn’t change the fact that starting with Elasticsearch and Kibana 7.11, source code can be used either under the SSPL or Elastic License. SSPL, which many might know as MongoDB’s homemade licence, was introduced as a licensing option to replace the Apache License used before in order to “prevent[..] companies from taking our Elasticsearch and Kibana products and providing them directly as a service without collaborating with us”. Binaries remain protected under the Elastic License only. 

Elastic’s step to change licences had drawn quite a bit of attention to the project earlier this year, since it signified the company’s departure from open source and new orientation towards a “source available” approach to some users. Banon justified the move with “Amazon/AWS misleading and confusing the community” through their own services and initiatives. 

Companies in a similar boat include MongoDB and RedisLabs, who both made similar adjustments in recent years.
Amazon’s answer was pretty immediate and included new forks of Elasticsearch and Kibana as part of its OpenDistro for Elasticsearch project – much like some other open source projects.

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