MongoDB Wire Protocol Specification is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. So as per the license, we may not use or adapt this material for any commercial purpose, such as to create a commercial database or database-as-a-service offering.

But I noticed, Microsoft is using MongoDB wire protocol as a part of Cosmos DB: MongoDB API offering: Credits: MS depicting wire protocol in use for CosmosDB offering

Legal questions based on aforementioned matter:

  1. Is Microsoft breaching law/rules as per CC Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 license by using MongoDB wire protocol as a part of CosmosDB offering?
  2. Can MongoDB Inc. take legal action against MS Corp. on this ground?
  3. What would be the repercussions (fine amount etc.) on MS Corp. if hypothetically, it loses the lawsuit?
  • It could be that there is a contractual arrangement allowing such use.
    – user35069
    Jul 29, 2022 at 7:22
  • 1
    Does MongoDB claim that the wire protocol itself is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA, or only that the documentation/specification of that protocol uses that license? Because I have doubts that the design of the protocol itself is even copyrightable, and even then copyright exceptions (such as fair use) might apply. It is generally recognized that reverse engineering for purposes of interoperability is not in itself copyright infringement, so a compatible database could be created even without access to the specification.
    – amon
    Jul 29, 2022 at 9:31
  • @amon The specification is licensed and not the implementation. MongoDB Inc. has explicitly mentioned: You may not use or adapt this material for any commercial purpose, such as to create a commercial database or database-as-a-service offering, while CosmosDB is exactly that - a commercial DB on cloud.
    – CᴴᴀZ
    Jul 29, 2022 at 10:40
  • Can it be proven Microsoft developed their software according to this specification, rather than, say, by reverse engineering the implementation?
    – user253751
    Jul 29, 2022 at 16:06
  • assuming they did use the specification, note that MongoDB voluntarily sent them the specification, and section 4(c) appears to say Microsoft is allowed to make as many copies for free as it wants on its own network, so I suspect Microsoft's implementation would have to be considered a derivative work in order to be affected by the license. Is it one? I know that New Zealand law (for example) has some kind of copyright exception for "interoperability purposes" (vaguely defined) and they are using the protocol in order to interoperate.
    – user253751
    Jul 29, 2022 at 16:09

1 Answer 1

  1. They may or may not be violating the license. It's quite possible, even likely, that Microsoft has a license agreement of some sort in place with MongoDB that permits their use. Neither party, however, would be under any obligation to disclose this license to 3rd parties.

  2. If indeed there is a violation, a legal action might eventually take place. The usual first step, however, is a demand letter. Again, unless or until a court filing actually takes place, we're in the dark.

  3. Totally hypothetical here but the result could be anywhere from an agreement between the parties to damages to cease-and-desist orders. Perhaps some combination of these.

I believe Microsoft has offered this service for some years now, so the lack of any visible action on MongoDB's part seems to indicate that they are good with what is going on. Microsoft has almost certainly made an agreement with MongoDB that covers this use.

Note also that the license you refer to is not necessarily the only license that this product is offered under. Many companies, and I don't think MongoDB is any exception, offer "free" or low cost licenses for some purposes and then also offer "enterprise" licenses for commercial/large-scale use. As the licensor here, MongoDB is under no obligation to offer one and only one license option to potential licensees.

  • 1
    It is also important to note that the license covers the specification, not the protocol. The protocol in question is actually a fairly well-designed and simple (in the good sense of the word) protocol that any semi-competent protocol developer can reverse engineer without ever looking at the specification. Moreover, the protocol is also well documented in blogs and articles, which are licensed under more permissive licenses, so you don't even need to reverse engineer the protocol in the first place. You can just take some documentation other than the official specification. Jul 29, 2022 at 11:32
  • Violation of a copyright license cannot result in fines, because it is not criminal. If the copyright owner sued and won, an award of damages could be made, or an injunction against further violations issued, or both. Jul 29, 2022 at 11:56
  • Thanks for clarifying. I updated to say "damages" instead of "fines".
    – jwh20
    Jul 29, 2022 at 12:22

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