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April 21, 2021

Grafana Ditches Apache 2.0, Switches to AGPL

Alex Woodie

Grafana is switching licensing of its core products from Apache License 2.0 to the more restrictive Affero General Public License (GPL) v3. The company made the change in an attempt to balance the value of open source with Grafana’s monetization strategy, CEO Raj Dutt announced yesterday.

Grafana has been considering a license change for some time, Dutt wrote in a blog post on April 20. This week, the company finally felt the time was right to move.

“Our company has always tried to balance the ‘value creation’ of open source and community with the ‘value capture’ of our monetization strategy,” Dutt wrote. “The choice of license is a key pillar of this strategy, and is something that we’ve deliberated on extensively since the company began.”

The company looked at the different open source licenses, and weighed its options.

“Over the last few years, we’ve watched closely as almost every at-scale open source company that we admire (such as Elastic, Redis Labs, MongoDB, Timescale, Cockroach Labs, and many others) has evolved their license regime,” Dutt wrote. “In almost all of these cases, the result has been a move to a non-OSI-approved source-available license.”

However, Grafana wanted to adopt an OSI-approved license. As a result, it selected and decided upon AGPLv3, which is a license that allows anybody to modify the software and to offer those modifications to others, as long as the modifications are also shared with the open source community.

The licensing change impacts Grafana’s core products, including Grafana, Grafana Loki, and Grafana Tempo. Plugins, agents, and certain libraries will remain Apache-licensed, the company says.

Grafana considered the Server Side Public License (SSPL), which is a licensing scheme developed by MongoDB and adopted by Elastic, among others, but decided it went too far.

“While AGPL doesn’t ‘protect’ us to the same degree as other licenses (such as the SSPL), we feel that it strikes the right balance,” wrote Dutt, who is a 2021 Datanami Person to Watch. “Being open source will always be at the core of who we are, and we believe that adopting AGPLv3 allows our community and users to by and large have the same freedoms that they have enjoyed since our inception.

While Elastic, MongoDB, and others have pointed the finger at Amazon Web Services as a primary reason for making licensing changes, that’s not the case with Grafana. In December, Grafana partnered with AWS to launch a new service whereby Grafana dashboards are offered as a service on AWS. AWS also launched a hosted service for Prometheus, a data storage and monitoring solution that’s built on Cortex, which is a product launched by Grafana.

Grafana made no mention of AWS in its announcement of the switch to AGPLv3.

Grafana also changed its contributor license agreement (CLA) to be more in line with the CLA set forth by the Apache Software Foundation. The company said it chose this CLA due to its popularity and familiarity, as well as the clarity it brings to contributors’ interests and Grafana’s rights to relicense changes.

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