Thoughts on Elastic License v2

Yesterday Elastic announced a revision to their not-great Elastic License. The Elastic License v2 was updated based on feedback from the community and apparently had a lawyer’s input. And while they seem to be backing off trying to imply that it is open source (because it decidedly is not), it still doesn’t seem like a good license.

First of all, it doesn’t comply with the Open Source Definition, so if that’s important to you, that’s all you need to know. I’m assuming if you’re reading this, you care about the license beyond that. And while I’m not a lawyer (so this is very much not legal advice), here are my thoughts: it’s vague! Seriously, the vagueness makes it a big risk whether or not you care about OSD compliance (and there are many reasons you might not, as I’ll discuss in an upcoming post).

The first line in the Limitations section reads thus:

You may not provide the software to third parties as a hosted or managed service, where the service provides users with access to any substantial set of the features or functionality of the software.

This contains two things I have questions about. First of all, what is a “managed service” exactly? Does that include consulting services where someone provides direct management of a customer’s software? I have a good idea of what “managed service” means in industry terms, but if a licensor using this software decides they don’t like what you’re doing, there’s enough vagueness there for them to cause you problems. And of course, if you want to use it in a Software-as-a-Service model, you can’t use it under this license. You can use it under the SSPL, of course, but that is a non-starter for a lot of users.

Secondly, what is a “substantial set of the features or functionality of the software”? If someone does their own implementation of the functionality, does that count? If someone develops additional code that extends the functionality of the software and the upstream project later adds that functionality, does the additional code now violate the license?

Another problem is that it treats “you” and “your company” as distinct entities. This doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. If I use software on behalf of my employer, the employer is the licensee. The “Patents” section contains the only uses of “your company” and says “[i]f your company makes such a claim, your patent license ends immediately for work on behalf of your company”, but that’s redundant because the license was always for my company, not for me.

Frankly, I don’t see why anyone would use this license, particularly now that Amazon has forked the project.