Facebook React Finally Relicensed Under MIT Open Source License

September 25, 2017 Ayala Goldstein

Application developers – stand down: Facebook has finally caved under the pressure from the open source community and announced that they will replace their now-notorious open source software license with a standard MIT license for some of their popular open source projects.

Facebook engineering director Adam Wolff wrote in a blog post on Friday that they intend to relicense their open source projects React, Jest, Flow, and Immutable.js under the MIT license, replacing the contentious BSD + Patents license that they have been insisting on sticking by, despite growing grumblings from the open source community.

Wolff explained that they decided to relicense the projects because, “React is the foundation of a broad ecosystem of open source software for the web, and we don’t want to hold back forward progress for nontechnical reasons.”

Facebook’s Summer of License-Backlash

The “nontechnical reasons” that Wolff was referring to were Facebook’s unusual BSD + Patents open source software licensing, and the open source community’s increasing pushback following the Apache Foundation’s decision to disallow Facebook’s controversial open source BSD + Patents license in all Apache projects. The move effectively banned the inclusion of any software under the BSD + Patents license, including Facebook’s open source libraries, frameworks, and tools from Apache projects.

This threw many developers who work on projects that use one or more of Facebook’s open source projects into a tailspin trying to figure out how to handle this new Apache-Facebook licensing incompatibility issue. Others grew more hesitant using Facebook projects with the BSD + Patents clause because of the legal shade the Apache Foundation threw its way.

With the mounting criticism and debate in the open source software community regarding the patent clause that Facebook added to the standard BSD license, major players began dropping some of Facebook’s most popular open source projects: WordPress’ founding developer Matt Mullenweg stated that WordPress would no longer use React, currently one of the most popular frontend libraries for JavaScript applications, and GitLab recently suspended its GraphQL implementation, citing uncertainty about the licensing situation.

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MIT Open Source Software License to the Rescue

MIT has long been a very popular open source software license in the open source developers community. According to Ben Balter, product manager at GitHub, nearly half of all licensed repositories on GitHub are opting for the MIT license.

Balter says the MIT license is an easy choice for developers, noting that, “It’s short and to the point. It tells downstream users what they can’t do, it includes a copyright (authorship) notice, and it disclaims implied warranties (buyer beware). It’s clearly a license optimized for developers. You don’t need a law degree to understand it, and implementation is simple.”

This is in opposition to the Apache license, which Balter considers to be “optimized for lawyers”.

Since creating their singular BSD + Patents clause nearly three years ago, Facebook stuck to their guns and stood by it. In his announcement on Friday, Wolff said that, “Although we still believe our BSD + Patents license provides some benefits to users of our projects, we acknowledge that we failed to decisively convince this community.”

It is worth noting that there are still some open source Facebook projects under the problematic patents clause, and it remains to be seen what Facebook will do with their licensing. Still, Facebook’s decision shows that it put the open source developers community first, and for now, developers can go back to software innovation and leave the patent clauses to the lawyers and patent trolls.

 

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