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Code theft or liberalisation?

By   |  December 9, 2004

An interesting row is brewing between SugarCRM and vTiger CRM, which could have a large impact for open source developers.

SugarCRM is a brilliant CRM (Client Relationship Management) application that achieved the prestigious award of being\’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.

Best regards,
The SugarSales development team.
john at

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 vTiger’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.


7 Responses to “Code theft or liberalisation?”

  1. Govind
    December 11th, 2004 @ 12:00 am


    Just got this link about the vtiger and Sugar tussle. Wanted to give one clarification regarding the outlook part. The outlook part developed by Sugar and vTiger are entirely different. So there is no question of license problem. Hope this clarifies. If you need further details contact me at the above said id.



  2. Danny
    December 13th, 2004 @ 12:00 am

    Sun put source code to under a dual license, the SISSL and GPL.

    Sun continues to sell an enhanced version, called StarOffice which is NOT open source. StarOffice and are compatible. StarOffice has more features, artwork, fonts, some third party commercial source code inside of it, etc.

    This is an example of a paid for, and open-source model.

  3. Pen Gwyn
    December 14th, 2004 @ 12:00 am

    MySQL database and Qt toolkit (KDE is based on this) use dual licensing.

  4. ce
    December 14th, 2004 @ 12:00 am


    MySQL database and Qt toolkit (KDE is based on this) use dual licensing.


    MySQL\’s source code is exactly the same for the open source and commercial license.

    This is dramatically different than releasing a stripped down OS version and enhanced commercial version.

  5. kiang
    May 10th, 2005 @ 12:00 am

    Hi, I\’ve translated this article to Traditional Chinese :

    Hope this wouldn\’t violate your original intention. 😉

  6. Happy Birthaday GPL V6 |
    July 6th, 2008 @ 1:57 am

    […] Code Theft or Liberalisation (December 2004) […]

  7. links for 2008-07-06 |
    July 6th, 2008 @ 11:32 am

    […] Tectonic » Code theft or liberalisation? Great Article on the original SugarCRM Badgeware issue going back to 2004. This link may bot work but the articale is available in the Tectonic Archives, just search for the title. (tags: opensource gpl licenses sugarcrm) […]

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