Elastic has announced on its website that Elasticsearch and Kibana will be licensed under the Elastic License instead of the Open Source Apache 2.0 License. Elastic is now using the Elastic License and the SSPL.

Regarding this decision of Elastic, AWS published an article “Stepping Up for a Truly Open Source Elasticsearch” on the official blog of AWS Open Source Blog — Elastic is breaking the definition of open source itself. AWS will step up efforts to create and maintain branches licensed under the Apache License Version 2.0 (ALv2) by the open source Elasticsearch and Kibana.

The following is a full translation of the post on the AWS Open Source Blog.

Last week, Elastic announced that they are changing their licensing policy and will no longer release new versions of Elasticsearch and Kibana under the Apache License 2.0 (ALv2). Instead, new versions of the software will be available under the Elastic License, which limits how software can be used, or the Server Side Public License, which has restrictions that are unacceptable to many in the open source community. This means that Elasticsearch and Kibana will no longer be open source. To ensure that open source versions of both packages are still available and well supported, including in our own products, we are announcing today that AWS will step in to create and maintain an ALV2-licensed fork of open source Elasticsearch and Kibana.

What does this mean for Open Distro in the Elasticsearch community?

We launched Open Distro for Elasticsearch in 2019 to provide customers and developers with a fully featured distribution of Elasticsearch that offers all the freedoms of ALV2-licensed software. Open Distro for Elasticsearch is a 100% Open source distribution that provides features that almost every Elasticsearch user or developer needs, including support for network encryption and access control. In building Open Distro, we follow the recommended Open source development practices of “upstream first”. #42066, #42658, #43284, #43839, #53643, #57271, #59563, #61400, #64513) We then included the “OSS” build provided by Elastic in our distribution. This ensures that we work with upstream developers and maintainers, rather than creating a “fork” of software.

Choosing to fork a project is not a decision taken lightly, but when a community’s needs diverge, it can be the right way forward — as is the case here. One of the key benefits of open source software is that when this happens, developers already have all the rights they need to take over the work themselves, if they are motivated enough. There are many successful examples, like Grafana, which was born out of the fork of Kibana 3.

When AWS decides to offer a service based on an open source project, we make sure we are capable and ready to maintain it ourselves if necessary. AWS brings years of experience working with these codebases, as well as upstream code contributions to ElasticSearch and Apache Lucene, the core search library that ElasticSearch builds on — more than 230 Lucene contributions in 2020 alone.

Our fork on Elasticsearch and Kibana will be based on the latest ALv2 licensing codebase, version 7.10. We’ll be releasing a new GitHub repository in the next few weeks. Over time, these two versions will be included in the existing Open Distro distribution, replacing the ALv2 build provided by Elastic. We will be involved for the long term and will work in ways that promote healthy and sustainable open source practices — including enabling shared project governance with the contributor community.

What does this mean for Amazon Elasticsearch customers?

You can rest assured that neither Elastic’s license changes nor our decision to fork will have any negative impact on the Amazon Elasticsearch service you currently enjoy (Amazon ES). Today, we offer 18 versions of ElasticSearch on Amazon ES, none of which are affected by license changes.

In the future, Amazon ES will be supported by new forks of Elasticsearch and Kibana. We will continue to offer new features, fixes, and enhancements. We are committed to providing compatibility to eliminate the need for you to update your client or application code. As we do today, we will provide you with a seamless upgrade path to the new version of the software.

This change will not slow down the rate of enhancement we provide to our customers. If anything, a community-owned Elasticsearch codebase provides us with new opportunities to make faster progress in improving stability, extensibility, resilience and performance.

What does this mean for the open source community?

Developers embrace open source software for many reasons, the most important of which is probably the freedom to use it where and how they want.

Since the term “open source” was first coined in 1998, it has taken on a specific meaning. Elastic’s claim that the SSPL is “free and open” is misleading and wrong. They are trying to claim the benefits of open source while at the same time cutting away the very definition of open source. Their choice of the SSPL obscures this. SSPL is a non-open source license, and it is designed to look like an open source license, blurring the line between the two. As the Fedora community puts it, “[Thinking of SSPL as’ free ‘or’ open source ’causes [a] shadow to cast over all other licenses in the FOSS ecosystem.”

In April 2018, when Elastic blended their proprietary licensed software with the ALv2 code, they promised in “We Opened X-pack.” “We haven’t changed the licensing of any Apache 2.0 code for Elasticsearch, Kibana, Beats and Logstash — we never will.” Last week, after breaking that promise, Elastic updated the same page with a footnote saying, “Things have changed.”

Elastic knew they were doing something funny. The community has told them this (see Brasseur, Quinn, DeVault, and Jacob, for example). That’s why they felt the need to write an extra swashbuckling blog (on top of their original license change blog) that tried to explain their actions as “AWS made us do it.” Most people are not fooled. We didn’t ask them to do anything. They argued that limiting their license would lock others into hosting Elasticsearch services, which would allow Elastic to build a bigger business. Of course Elastic has the right to change their licenses and make their own decisions.

At the same time, we are excited about the long journey we have embarked on with Open Distro for Elasticsearch. We look forward to providing Elasticsearch and Kibana with a true open source option using the ALv2 license, and working with the community to build and support this future.