SugarCRM: Artificial Sweetener?

I got the following e-mail a few days back:

Dear Summit 2006 Delegates and other List Members,

I am writing for two purposes:

1. First, I’d like to share the URL of an insightful discussion of attribution, OSI, and licensing at This one is worth a read to see some of what is going on the commercial space as well regarding OSI. I found it informative without having to subscribe the OSI Licensing list.

2. You will soon see a revised set of documents that reflect the outcomes of the Summit discussion for next step. This set will include both the inbound Contributor Agreements and outbound distribution license. Chris Coppola (rSmart) continues to be our hero in slugging through many of the details of these processes across the foundations and with OSI.

I will also be providing an update on the Policy and Licensing Summit at next Monday’s CNI meeting in Washington, DC. Again, I appreciate all those who traveled to attend the Summit and who have contributed via the online discussions. The quietness on this list of recent has only indicated much work across other projects, but we will soon distribute for comment the documents derived from the work of the Summit.

Cheers – Brad

IU Chief Information Officer & IU-Bloomington Dean of IT

Brad is the CIO of the University of Indiana, and co-chair of the conference in Indianapolis in mid-October that was the subject of a recent post.

Many of the folks who were at that conference will also be at the weeklong Sakai 2006 Conference that begins this Tuesday in Atlanta. (I’ll be there and am really looking forward to learning more about Sakai.)

The subject of this post is Brad’s mention of an “insightful discussion,” Are SugarCRM, Socialtext, Zimbra, Scalix and others abusing the term “open source?”, by David Berlind. I have been aware of this issue, and also noticed a link to it on Steve O’Grady’s 11/23/06 links. There is a follow-up post, Attribution may matter (in open source licensing), but making the Open Source Initiative whole matters first.

Berlind’s analysis of the issues raised by the SugarCRM license is balanced and nuanced, and I strongly recommend that those interested in open-source licensing issues take the time to carefully read his post.

In brief, the issue is that the company has a product called “SugarCRM,” and the company claims that their product is open-source because the code is licensed under combination of the OSI-approved license, Mozilla Public License 1.1 (MPL), and the following exception, that can be found in “Exhibit B”:

SugarCRM Public License 1.1.3 – Exhibit B

Additional Terms applicable to the SugarCRM Public License.

I. Effect.
These additional terms described in this SugarCRM Public License – Additional Terms shall apply to the Covered Code under this License.

II. SugarCRM and logo.
This License does not grant any rights to use the trademarks “SugarCRM” and the “SugarCRM” logos even if such marks are included in the Original Code or Modifications.

However, in addition to the other notice obligations, all copies of the Covered Code in Executable and Source Code form distributed must, as a form of attribution of the original author, include on each user interface screen (i) the “Powered by SugarCRM” logo and (ii) the copyright notice in the same form as the latest version of the Covered Code distributed by SugarCRM, Inc. at the time of distribution of such copy. In addition, the “Powered by SugarCRM” logo must be visible to all users and be located at the very bottom center of each user interface screen. Notwithstanding the above, the dimensions of the “Powered By SugarCRM” logo must be at least 106 x 23 pixels. When users click on the “Powered by SugarCRM” logo it must direct them back to In addition, the copyright notice must remain visible to all users at all times at the bottom of the user interface screen. When users click on the copyright notice, it must direct them back to

And you thought open-source was simple? Here we have a license that includes the phrase “106 x 23 pixels.” Are we in a pixel pickle?

The are many questions raised by Exhibit B. Perhaps that most important is whether the Exhibit is an “exception” or a “restriction.” My understanding is that, at least in the view of some people, adding an exception to an open-source license is acceptable since it doesn’t restrict the use of code under the license, while a “restriction” is not acceptable because the modified license restricts the user’s rights.

And of almost equal importance is whether the decision as to which applies can be left up to the authors of the change, or must be reviewed and approved by an independent body such as the Open Source Initiative (OSI).

When I first looked at this issue, I felt the changes were not acceptable, for several reasons.

First, the change is a restriction. It requires the user to do things that the MPL 1.1 does not require.

Second, the change had not been submitted to the OSI for their review and approval.

Third, as a corollary to the second, for to use the phrase “open-source” without the consent of OSI was to take unfair advantage of OSI as the maintainer of the notion of “open-source” and “open-source license.” Giving credit where credit is due is fundamental to the ethics of open-source, and to associate your work with the work of others in inappropriate fashion is to take unfair advantage of them.

And so I began a series of posts to address this issue. I though it would be a simple matter to confirm my first impression, but several posts down the road I’m not so sure.

Though some have already taken me to task for making such a mountain out of what is in their view a molehill — as a recent comment attests — I find that on examination this situation, as is so often the case when dealing with open-source, is more subtled and nuanced than a first impression would suggest.

All these concerns equally apply to’s new language? Is is an acceptable exception? Something needing OSI review? Not needing OSI review?

Who is to decide? Certainly not me. All I can do is raise some of the points that perhaps should be considered by others who have the responsibility of sorting this out.


  1. Posted December 3, 2006 at 17:40 | Permalink | Reply

    The classpath exception exist in one form or another since early 90s (at least, libgcc was the earliest reference I could find for the construct of adding permissions to the GPL), and predates the OSI and the DFSG (which were later rebranded to be the OSD).

    Adding permissions to licenses can’t make them not be open source. 😉

    Adding restrictions, though, can. For example, many IBM products incorporating Apache licensed code have restrictions on top of the nice, and friendly terms of the Apache licensed components, and therefore are not open source.

    There is no flaw in GPLv2, as you can see by Sun opening the JavaME reference implementation under GPLv2 sans exceptions.

    In the case of JavaSE, Sun chose to join the strong & successful free runtime community around GNU Classpath, gcj, Kaffe, IKVM, etc. under the already established preferred terms for free Java runtimes, in order to make it possible for the code from the RI to be used freely by most implementations.

    As using pure GPL, or the Apache license would have excluded some of the existing communities, they chose the most liberal license for the parts of the code where they could expect to see most reuse and collaboration: GPL+classpath exception for the class libraries, which makes them available to projects under any license.

  2. Posted March 22, 2007 at 16:37 | Permalink | Reply

    SugarCRM is evaluating GPL3 when it comes out. I would suggest that is the firts GPL which appropriately covers all parties involved.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

  • Pages

  • December 2006
    M T W T F S S
    « Nov   Jan »
  • RSS The Wayward Word Press

  • Recent Comments

    Sahana’s Respo… on A brief history of Sahana by S…
    Sahana’s Respo… on A brief history of Sahana by S…
    James Murray on On being the maintainer, sole…
    James Murray on On being the maintainer, sole…
    mrrdev on On being the maintainer, sole…
  • Archives

  • Blog Stats

  • Top Posts

  • Top Rated

  • Recent Posts

  • Archives

  • Top Rated

  • %d bloggers like this: