Berkeley DB relicensed to AGPLv3

Russ Allbery rra at
Tue Jul 2 16:39:46 UTC 2013

Oracle is claiming on their web site to have relicensed Berkeley DB under
the Affero GPL v3:

This has possibly nasty consequences for versions of INN built with
Berkeley DB support because of the interaction of the following clauses in
the AGPLv3:

      "The Program" refers to any copyrightable work licensed under this


      You may convey a work based on the Program, or the modifications to
    produce it from the Program, in the form of source code under the
    terms of section 4, provided that you also meet all of these

        c) You must license the entire work, as a whole, under this
        License to anyone who comes into possession of a copy.  This
        License will therefore apply, along with any applicable section 7
        additional terms, to the whole of the work, and all its parts,
        regardless of how they are packaged.  This License gives no
        permission to license the work in any other way, but it does not
        invalidate such permission if you have separately received it.


     Notwithstanding any other provision of this License, if you modify
    the Program, your modified version must prominently offer all users
    interacting with it remotely through a computer network (if your
    version supports such interaction) an opportunity to receive the
    Corresponding Source of your version by providing access to the
    Corresponding Source from a network server at no charge, through some
    standard or customary means of facilitating copying of software.

which together imply that INN linked with Berkeley DB is a "covered work"
(because it's based in part on Berkeley DB), hence must be licensed under
the AGPLv3, which in turn requires that any modified versions offer all
users interacting with it remotely some way to download the source.

This is all very murky when applied to a library, which the AGPLv3 was
never intended for.  My suspicion is that Oracle is using this as a
shakedown for commercial users of Berkeley DB to try to get separate
licensing fees from them by making it obnoxious to use the open source
version.  However, read strictly, it could imply that anyone running a
version of INN linked with Berkeley DB who has modified the source in some
way is required to present as part of the NNTP banner or in some similar
way a URL to the source code.  (Possibly including the source for Berkeley
DB?  It's really not clear.)

Obviously, I think it would be absurd for us to require this.  Not only is
INN itself released intentionally under a much more permissive license, I
think trying to keep track of a requirement to do something like this is
excessively onerous on users of INN.

The INN project and ISC do not distribute binaries of INN and therefore do
not distribute any work that's a derived work of Berkeley DB, so this does
not affect us directly.  It primarily affects downstream distributions who
choose to build with Berkeley DB.

I must say that, were I them, I would seriously consider dropping ovdb
support rather than dealing with this mess.  However, it's also possible
that people will fork the version of Berkeley DB prior to this licensing
change and continue to maintain it.

Russ Allbery (rra at             <>

    Please send questions to the list rather than mailing me directly.
     <> explains why.

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