Open Source is a Gift. But a gift that comes with strings attached is a shitty one.

HashiCorp recently announced its decision to relicense their software. I've never used, nor contributed to their software so I don't particularly care, but since there's a lot of takes flying around in the discourse I wanted to express my own thoughts on the general pattern of companies trying to relicense and lock down the past permissiveness of the software they have created.

Different folks will ascribe different definitions (or even "requirements") to whether something actually is Open Source or not. To me, Open Source is software given away to others to do with it as they will. In other words, a Gift.

Open Source as a Gift is what happens when someone truly gives away software they've created because they want to share the value it brings with no strings attached. Someone who makes a contribution to that work (technical or otherwise) is also giving a Gift in return under the same terms.

What frustrates and annoys me is when people try to defend Open Source as a Grift as if it's the same thing. Open Source as a Grift is what happens when a corporation adopts Open Source as a business strategy. They start out giving software away under a permissive license to garner adoption and extract free-as-in-labor contributions from others. Sooner or later the corporation decides it wants to extract rent from its products (or it decides it isn't able to extract enough rent) and tries to claw back control over their software and make it so that only they can (monetarily) profit directly from that work.

I have no sympathy for situations like Elastic bemoaning AWS "unfairly" profiting by hosting their software. AWS's business model is to rent servers and software to customers. Elastic's business model is (was?) developing software and giving it away under terms that permits others to build on top of it. Their sudden regret in not being able to extract the same rent with their existing business model does not change the fact that they chose to build permissive, free-as-in-beer software knowing that someone like AWS could, and would, come along and make money with it.

Now, don't get me wrong: I think everyone should be fairly compensated for their labor, we all have to put food on the table in this world of capitalism. But if you cannot economically sustain yourself by giving Gifts away then you have no business in doing so. And you most certainly do not get to come back after the fact, break the social contract, and demand everyone adopt new terms on how they use the very thing you voluntarily chose to give away.

Of course the tension here is that if those who engage in Open Source as a Grift kept their software proprietary from the start, it would not have seen the same level of adoption or been able to extract contributions from others.

You can't have it both ways.

Attempting to relicense to less permissive terms is, and always has been, enshittification.