Code theft or liberalisation?
SugarCRM is a brilliant CRM (Client Relationship Management) application that achieved the prestigious award of being SourceForge.net\’s Project of the Month during October. SugarCRM is released as a free downloadable version and an optimised Professional version that is charged for on an annual per user basis.
Recently vTiger took SugarCRM\’s source code, stripped the logos, added an installer and released it as vTiger CRM. I am not a lawyer but it appears to be legal to do this under the SugarCRM Public Licence (SPL), which is an adapted version of the Mozilla Public Licence. vTiger then went further to ensure that they adhere to the SPL by publicly stating that it is based on SugarCRM code and kept the copyright notices intact.
However, on the launch of vTiger a SugarCRM developer named John (it later emerged that it was John Roberts a lead SugarCRM developer) placed the following rant on one of the vTiger forums:
vtiger is a lie – the legal product is called SugarSales from SugarCRM Inc.
We do not think it very cool of you to claim ownership to something you did not write one line of code for.
The SugarSales development team.
john at sugarcrm.com
Within 3 hours the vTiger Team responded in such a brilliant way that you must think that it was premeditated. They posted an open letter to Eric Raymond, President of the Open Source Initiative. vTiger state their case impeccably in this letter and you can see that they consulted a lawyer. Apparently SugarCRM also removed their SPL licence (v1.1.2) from their website but vTiger included a copy in the letter to Raymond.
Forking the source code was ingenious on vTigerâ€™s part, as they became the guardians of a completely open source project. The funny thing is that the vTiger community might now grow quicker because they do not have the conflict of determining which features to place in the free or paid for version.
vTiger did not just hijack the project but are actively enhancing the application with added functionality such as an Outlook plug-in, which is only available as a trial version for the free SugarCRM version. Interestingly vTiger says that the Outlook plug-in is their contribution which, if true, might still create a licence conflict.
The question that has to be asked is whether a paid-for and free business model can co-exist in the open source world. I am sure there are projects that work successfully on this model but none that I can think of offhand. You are most probably saying hey what about Red Hat, but you can download and compile RHEL yourself, such as done by the White Box Linux project.
This is going to become very interesting feud and I look forward to see how SugarCRM will counter this. There are many options available to SugarCRM such as changing their business model or just offering a superior product and service. Only time will tell.