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Cockroach Labs founders
Cockroach Labs founders (L to R): Ben Darnell, chief architect; Spencer Kimball, CEO; Peter Mattis, CTO (Cockroach Labs Photo)

Cockroach Labs, the New York-based database company behind the open-source CockroachDB database, will change the terms of the license agreement in the next version of the open-source project to prohibit cloud providers like Amazon Web Services from offering a commercial version of that project as a service.

“Our past outlook on the right business model relied on a crucial norm in the OSS (open-source software) world: that companies could build a business around a strong open source core product without a much larger technology platform company coming along and offering the same product as a service. That norm no longer holds,” wrote CockroachDB founders Peter Mattis, Ben Darnell, and Spencer Kimball in a blog post Tuesday morning announcing the change.

The move follows similar ones from companies like Redis Labs, MongoDB, and Confluent last year that, with some variation, restricted what users of the open-source projects maintained by those companies could do with the free version of the software. These changes have set off months of hand-wringing within open-source circles about what it really means to be an open-source project in the cloud computing era.

The CockroachDB founders specifically called out AWS’s decision to offer its own version of the open-source Elasticsearch in March as motivation for the licensing changes. “We’re basically putting a kind of patent protection against Amazon-like behavior,” Kimball said in an interview with The Information.

Cockroach Labs’ approach is interesting: the only restriction on the use of the open-source project is that you can’t “offer a commercial version of CockroachDB as a service without buying a license,” and that restriction will expire three years after a new open-source version is released, reverting back to the very permissive Apache 2.0 license that governs many enterprise computing open-source projects. The company expects to put this license into place in October.

Clearly, the debate over the best way to manage open-source software — which has transformed the production of enterprise software over the last decade, and for the better — in the cloud era isn’t going away. That’s just one of the topics we plan to cover tomorrow during our GeekWire Cloud Summit in Bellevue, where I’ll be hosting an afternoon session with the three creators of the open-source Kubernetes project on its fifth anniversary. A few tickets are still available here.

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