The Free Software Foundation (FSF) today announced the release of version 3 of the GNU Affero General Public License (AGPLv3). AGPLv3 is based on version 3 of the GNU General Public License (GPLv3), but has an additional term to allow users who interact with AGPLv3-licensed software over a network to receive the source code for that software (and modifications to that software). In particular, AGPLv3 modifes Section 13 of GPLv3 as follows:
While GPLv3 generally covers the distribution to third parties of modifications to software under GPLv3, it does not cover the situation where a user modifies software covered by GPLv3 and runs the modified software on a network without actually distributing a copy of the software. As a result, users making the functionality of software subject to GPLv3 available over a network (but not also distributing the software itself) are not required by GPLv3 to make available the source code to any modifications they have made to that software. This means that modifications to software covered by GPLv3 by companies operating operating under a software as a service (SaaS) or application service provider (ASP) model need not be released.
The fact that ASP/SaaS models are quickly becoming prevalent in the software industry and that the final draft of GPLv3 released earlier this year did not close this so-called “ASP Loophole” (or, if you prefer, “SaaS Loophole”) has led to a good deal of concern among open source commentators. The FSF intends that AGPLv3 will address these concerns by providing a means for developers to close this loophole. In particular, under AGPLv3, anyone running a copy of a modified version of software covered by AGPLv3 on a network must also make available a copy of those modifications as well (regardless of whether they have actually distributed the modified software itself). In their press release, the FSF notes that AGPLv3 is compatible with GPLv3 and, as a result, programmers who want to use the AGPLv3 for their work can also take advantage of software available under GPLv3. Given the additional coverage provided by AGPLv3, the FSF recommends that people consider using the AGPLv3 for any software which will commonly be run over a network.