the idea of changing the licensing options for elgg

in the recent thread where ismayil stated he is quitting the position of core developer of elgg, i suggested that maybe a good idea would be to look at the option of requiring commercial users of elgg to pay a license fee for use. as far as i am aware, steve is the only active core developer left and he asked me to create a new thread to discuss the idea.

to be clear, i prefer open source projects - including elgg - to be entirely free for all. the reason why i am suggesting to create a license fee requirement for purely commercial users is that it has been my experience and also the experience of other developers i know (including ismayil, from his comments) that generally, the primarily commercial users do not give anything (or at least very little) back to the community and so we have a situation that is something like:

  1. coders create plugins and core code for free - for their own reasons, possibly to support their own website.
  2. commercial developers use the code that was developed for free, gaining them the benefit of the others with nothing in return.
  3. the commercial developers then use their resources to create their own proprietary code - giving them the benefit of both their own work and the work of everyone who shared... attempting to gain 'commercial advantage' - while ignoring that the basis of their 'advantage' could not exist without the community providing that basis for free.
  4. the commercial developers get paid - sometimes very well - while the community developers do not.
  5. there is an obvious imbalance that could be balanced by government or corporate entities that use elgg providing support in the form of money, coding time or other resources.
  6. coders who work for free may (and often do) feel somewhat exploited by the situation, while the commercial users of the code often get rewarded greatly.

i don't know the names of many commercial sites that use elgg, because i don't track that topic much - but i do know of at least one now major site that used it and who claimed all along to be 'supporting' the open source community and elgg, yet in reality - as far as i know - did absolutely nothing to walk that talk.

why should this situation be allowed to continue? especially when it would be relatively simple to improve it and simply by putting out the intention to improve it there may be adequate impetus provided to inspire larger users to offer help which previously they didn't bother to do.

Steve implied in the other thread (i think) that commercial users would just fork elgg and avoid the license fee. That would be their choice and right to do so - but at least if they did that then there would be an end to the problems listed above. If they, or i, or anyone takes over our own version of elgg and no longer comes to the community or the core developers with support tasks/questions then they are entitled to do that and use their resources to make their own version of Elgg. I am suggesting though that the license make clear that after a specific date, they are not licensed to use any new code produced for Elgg by the core team unless they pay the license fee. I'm really not clear exactly how the elgg community would lose out by this because to my knowledge (and it appears to the knowledge of other coders i have spoken to) these commercial entities provide little to nothing here anyway, so what is lost?

how would this license idea 'save' elgg?

  1. coders would know from their immediate use of the system that their work on the core is not going to be entirely counter productive to them, in that they may be giving code to groups who do not compensate them in any way and who may actually be direct competition for them online. at the very least they will know that elgg itself is being directly supported by their potential 'competition' and thus the effect is somewhat mitigated. this offers peace of mind and a sense of reciprocation that is missing currently and which is necessary in a group sharing environment.
  2. by bringing in some money for the elgg core team, it becomes possible to bring balance to the team and provide motivation and increased quality of life to some extent.
  3. a carefully worded clause in the agreement could provide a doorway for commercial users to bypass the fee if they instead provide coding / support time for the elgg core.. though i don't know how that would be worded from a lawful perspective or managed in practical terms. this would inspire more elgg core work from 3rd parties, rather than them just relying on the overworked core team.
  4. the increased potential for financial support may draw new attention to elgg in general.

what are the mechanisms needed?

  1. change in the agreement for elgg that stipulates that purely commercial use requires either a license fee or an agreement to provide a certain level of technical services for elgg core.
  2. maybe some kind of serial number system built in to elgg to monitor license use, which gives some scope for commercial use to be monitored.
  3. enforcement of the policy would require nothing more than standard operations of law for software license infringement.

this kind of approach is not my favored one at all - by nature i prefer to not involve 'legalities', 'money' or any of these topics into creativity - but i am also pragmatic and i feel there is a lot of potential being lost here and hard work going to waste to some extent.

any thoughts are welcomed.


  • I've looked there several times, well just the support parts to see what it's like. Gets talked about in a few places as an alternative to Oxwall and Jomsocial (before Easysocial took off). I had no idea.

    There never seems to be a ton of activity when I do randomly check in there.

  • good find, this is a problem that effects everything elggers do unfortunately.

  • I've done some manual code comparison, yes, tons of straight copying initially and over time.

  • @Steve ClayGood catch, Steve. What about Elgg's copyrights? What should we do for this?

  • As I wrote before:

    It has happened at least three times (as far as I know) that people have forked Elgg.

    This is one of the examples I know of.

    And before anyone asks, the second example doesn't matter anymore as they are out of business (they had forked Elgg 1.5 or 1.6 and never made any noticeable progress as long as they still offered hosting) and the third example in In the latter case they have added at least some credits to Elgg by now (but I think only after being asked to do so) and they have heavily modified the code so much by now that backporting anything is likely of no use - but I think legally not even possible as they've changed the license to AGPLv3 only (allowed due to the dual license of Elgg core that includes the MIT license). Nevertheless, I find it annoying that the license change prevents the backporting of code. And of course I also find it very annoying if anyone comes up with "minds is sooo much better than Elgg" without knowing where they started and that it's very likely that there wouldn't have been any without Elgg in the first place.

  • @iionly You're right about Minds - it's another matter.
    I don't want to go into the details of the code obfuscation but OSSN is a theft

  • I've put them on notice and if they comply I mostly consider this handled. Yes code was copied but it's all MIT code. I don't think there's a taste among the core team to make much more of this, assuming they act in good faith.

  • Hi .. At first I never wanted to get involved in this discussion as i am not a CODER not a DEVELOPER i know nothing about PHP or anything regarding web development except SQL & PL/SQL .. I am just getting involved her for the Love i have for Elgg .. I am just giving one suggestion why don't we have 2 type of plugin

    1) Free Plugin  

    2) Paid Plugin .. I have seen in elgg developers develop plugin just for fun & i have also seen developers who make money through elgg..

    Let the community make 2 type of profile if a developer intention is to earn money let him pay a professional fee to elgg for a year & he alone can use the Paid Plugin service completely through this elgg can pay for there core developers for improvement ..  Let the basic profile have the Complete Free plugin service & have the access for the paid plugin service. Now if a normal profile user wants to bye a paid plugin let him pay for that plugin & download it for rest of the version improvement as well. Through this elgg will not lose it's open source policy neither the developers who want to earn will be left & the elgg community will have some fund for developing Elgg .. If i am making some sense consider it or else plz ignore it..    

  • An elgg merger or fork might be the answer. I suggest operators break away & come over to - where everyone gets paid profit share & can distribute plugins free or paid. The default tcb package would include a number of esafety innovations already sponsored by me. Core upgrades would not be as often. Suitable hosting & domains available. I'm also a proponent of innovation & have a can do, go ahead attitude, as opposed to just getting along & playing catchup with the likes of Facebook & Twitter. I love elgg, but there's so much more we can achieve & believe that tcb holds the key without the need for donations or license fee.