A few years ago (2018), the software package MongoDB, freely available including source code, was relicensed. The original license was the infamous AGPL, which required anybody offering modified MongoDB as a service to share the source code for those modifications with users. The new license, SSPL, is an untested nonce license which requires those offering MongoDB as a service to share the source code for the entire service.

Many commentators have speculated heavily on the question of whether AWS, one of the largest resellers of MongoDB and MongoDB derivative services, violated the terms of the AGPL. Under the principle that fires usually have smoke, I would expect to see some evidence which corroborates this claim. What evidence do we have? I confess some motivated reasoning here: such commentary is generally meant to disparage the AGPL as an ineffective license which would not hold up in court, but I personally have known attorneys who take AGPL seriously and have had employers who forbid AGPL-licensed products in the workplace.

(By careful reading of site rules, I believe that this is appropriate for Law SE rather than Open Source SE. I am not seeking community guidance on licensing norms, but evidence which plausibly could be admitted in court.)

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    No one has brought forward evidence about license violations, and if AWS were a (criminal) AGPL license violator they wouldn't be stopped by a SSPL license either. MongoDB was desperately afraid of competition for their Atlas DBaaS product, and competition is feasible under AGPL but not SSPL. This perceived threat of AWS swooping in and deploying your code was used to push the SSPL. But the relicensing did not prevent AWS' reimplementation of the wire protocol which rendered any licensing irrelevant.
    – amon
    Commented Aug 5, 2021 at 15:46
  • @amon: Explicit support for your position is found in this interview; in particular, they appear to see licensing choices as part of a unified marketing strategy. I am very careful about phrasing like "no one", which is why I have asked the question before a diverse forum. Thanks for your perspective.
    – Corbin
    Commented Aug 5, 2021 at 16:20
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    @Corbin you aren't going to find a good answer because no one has tested any "evidence" in court yet - right now, there is no evidence that AWS did anything wrong at all, other than use MongoDB exactly as its creator intended. Now, AWS did built up a decent support structure around the provision and management of MongoDB which they charged money for, and thats what got the creators so het up. The issue is, the AGPL does not require the distribution of the support structure, only the MongoDB codebase itself - and it doesn't look like AWS modified MongoDB at all.
    – user28517
    Commented Aug 6, 2021 at 1:46

1 Answer 1


Contracts (including licences) have the doctrine of privity

Let's say you and I enter a contract and that third parties form the opinion that you have breached it. That doesn't matter. It only matters what I think.

I might think that you haven't breached it - I'm certainly not going to sue you for a breach that I don't think happened.

Or, I might think you breached it and I don't care - I'm not going to sue you.

Or, I think you breached it and I really care but I don't think I can prove the breach to the required standard - I won't sue here either.

Or, I can prove it but the damages I've suffered amount to $2.86 and a lawsuit will cost me $50,000.12 - I might sue you on principle but then I remember that suits on principle are what make lawyers rich and I'd rather be rich myself.

Or, I might have definitive proof that you broke it, I've suffered massive damage but my lawyer says "I think the contract is unlawful because of X, don't go to court."

Assuming none of the above happens and I do sue you then I'll present some evidence.

Allegations cost nothing: proof is hard.

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