Facebook Isn’t Budging on React’s BSD + Patents License

Last month React users petitioned Facebook to relicense the project (and its other open source projects) after the Apache Software Foundation (ASF) added Facebook’s BSD+Patents license to its Category X list of disallowed licenses for Apache PMC members. Participants and subscribers to the GitHub thread waited weeks for a decision on re-licensing while Facebook’s engineering directors discussed the matter internally. The request has now formally been denied.

“I’d like to apologize for the amount of thrash, confusion, and uncertainty this has caused the React and open source communities,” Facebook engineer Adam Wolff said. “We know this is painful, especially for teams that feel like they’re going to need to rewrite large parts of their project to remove React or other dependencies. We’ve been looking for ways around this and have reached out to ASF to see if we could try to work with them, but have come up empty.”

The request for re-licensing had received 851 “thumbs-up” reactions on GitHub and many developers commented to say that the ASF’s policy disallowing the BSD+Patents license affects their organizations’ ability to continue using React and other open source projects from Facebook. Others said they would like to use React but the licensing makes it impossible for their companies.

Facebook Cites “Meritless Patent Litigation” as the Reason Behind Adopting the BSD + Patents License

Wolff’s post announcing Facebook’s decision said that the team has not done a good job of communicating the reasons behind its BSD + Patents license and offered a more in-depth explanation:

As our business has become successful, we’ve become a larger target for meritless patent litigation. This type of litigation can be extremely costly in terms of both resources and attention. It would have been easy for us to stop contributing to open source, or to do what some other large companies do and only release software that isn’t used in our most successful products, but we decided to take a different approach. We decided to add a clear patent grant when we release software under the 3-clause BSD license, creating what has come to be known as the BSD + Patents license. The patent grant says that if you’re going to use the software we’ve released under it, you lose the patent license from us if you sue us for patent infringement. We believe that if this license were widely adopted, it could actually reduce meritless litigation for all adopters, and we want to work with others to explore this possibility.

The ASF’s decision to disallow the BSD+Patents license was for policy reasons, not a legal decision based on incompatibility. Greg Stein, commenting on behalf of ASF on a separate GitHub issue, said that the ASF didn’t want downstream users of Apache code to be surprised by the PATENTS grant that was previously in RocksDB and is still in React. The organization wanted users to have no further constraints other than following the ALv2.

“While we respect this decision, it hurts to see so many great ASF projects get churned for policy reasons after using this license for years,” Wolff said in Facebook’s announcement. The company made it clear that they will not be re-licensing React or any other projects simply to satisfy ASF’s policy requirements.

“We have considered possible changes carefully, but we won’t be changing our default license or React’s license at this time,” Wolff said. “We recognize that we may lose some React community members because of this decision. We are sorry for that, but we need to balance our desire to participate in open source with our desire to protect ourselves from costly litigation. We think changing our approach would inhibit our ability to continue releasing meaningful open source software and increase the amount of time and money we have to spend fighting meritless lawsuits.”

Many from the OSS community expressed disappointment and frustration in their initial reactions on Twitter:

The issue requesting re-licensing has been closed on GitHub and is now locked and limited to collaborators.

It’s not clear how this decision will affect WordPress, as the project has yet to announce which JS framework it will be adopting for core. Automattic is heavily invested in React, having built Calypso and Jetpack’s admin interface with it. WordPress’ new Gutenberg editor is also built using React, as the project’s chief contributors are employed by Automattic. The company’s legal counsel has said in the past that they are comfortable using React for its products under the current license, but other companies in the WordPress ecosystem may not be as amenable to having the framework included in core.


37 responses to “Facebook Isn’t Budging on React’s BSD + Patents License”

      • I take him seriously no matter what name he uses. If he wants to stay semi anonymous I respect that as I do it myself in many places over the web.

        I will not abandon WP because of it but my opinion of Automattic goes more down the drain as time goes on.

        They recommend GPL 2.0 or later for WP based projects, yet they use GPL 2.0 (without later) for Jetpack to start small. My request to change it seems not moving forward. https://github.com/Automattic/jetpack/pull/6609

        Then there is Jetpack on its own as a disgusting bloated money making machine pulling in ignorant people to pay for stuff they do not need that also needs 3rd party stuff from them when I always thought Matts vision was to empower independence for self hosted installs and to seperate .com and .org. Then there is this the thesis.com thing (and I do not mean defending the GPL, I mean stealing the domain) where I am so disgusted by this, I would expect any pure evil company to do this but the last company I expected to be this viscous abusing and hateful is them. Not anymore sadly.

        And now the licensing thing. Even if the best Lawyers in the world say there is no risk there I think it should be automattics obligation to drop it like a hot potato even if there is only 0.000000001% risk. On one hand they defend the GPL but on the other the not see harm in using this Trojan Horse of a license from a company that is deeply immoral and completely contrary to everything I thought WP stands for in the first place. In fact this fits FB perfectly if you ask me, I would not expect anything else then this from them.

    • I don’t see it myself. I thought we disliked software patents altogether in the OSS community. This license is anti patent and if all OSS projects adopted such a clause it would be effectively a cross license.

      If facebook are sued for yet another dubious software patent and they use this license to nullify the suite would we not be cheering them along?

  1. A bit disappointing. I was hoping that given the amount of hue and cry, and how much React is used, that Facebook would give ground on the license. Apparently not.

    To be fair, they are protecting themselves with the license, but it’s unfortunately likely to turn off many potential users.

    • They are protecting themselves … pfff they are one of the biggest companies on this planet what is there to protect that their billion dollar law firms cant handle. I do not believe this for a minute.

      On the others hand, maybe its a good thing. More people will turn to React comportable true open source alternatives. And more people will use Vue.js that seems to be superior to React anyways, or other Frameworks, new onces will spawn … all true open source, hopfully community controlled.

      • You really don’t know how expensive the legal side of things is. Just admit it. What you know is the tip of the iceberg, which is the payout when a company loses. What you don’t see are the travel expenses, the per-hour fees, the cost of discovery (obtaining documents), the audits and the storage requirements to keep a company safe from lawsuits, then all the other things that company does to keep itself away from cost of lawfare, be it charitable donations, candidate contributions, and so on.

        Yes, FB is a large company and makes lots of money. It’s not any more right for them to be harassed by nuisance lawsuits than it is for you or I to be.

        Time to upgrade your moral compass.

      • Facebook is big but not that big.
        Apple’s Services devision is bigger than Facebook.

        Software Patent litigation is BIG BUSINESS. And it increases the cost to everyone. Even universities are into the Software Patent Troll act. Just look at how Wisconsin U won a half a billion dollar software patent battle with Apple. These are HUGE WINS.

        Software patents are completely opposite the ideals of open source software. Just look at how MP4 and its patent encumbered children inhibit video work online.

        So I don’t fault Facebook for trying to protect itself from patent litigation. Even open source software is not protected from patent litigation.

      • Rofl you need to pick Apple as a as “proof” that Facebook is “not that big”. Thats hilarious. “Facebook Is Now Bigger Than The Largest Country On Earth” thats a headline from January 2015!!! Yeah not that big bahahaaha!

  2. They’ve made it clear that this license will be used to bludgeon companies they have sides with.

    They’ve also made it clear that the legal folks are in charge of this policy, not the engineering team.

    So, WordPress should not take any assurances from any React developer about how benign the licence is.

  3. The patents license is a corporate artifact specifically designed to protect the interests of a mega corporation which alters the behavior of those looking to build on top of OSS. It has no business in an ecosystem that thrives on the freedoms open source software aims to protect. The fact that it is openly acknowledged that a portion of projects will feel forced to abandon React should be as clear as signal as any that WordPress can’t possible qualify React as a suitable for core. Not unless it wants to limit the teams, people and businesses choosing WordPress as their platform.

  4. Automattic can do whatever it wants, WordPress can not. Maintaining a truely free license should be non-negotiable for WordPress.

    Further WordPress can not rely on Automattic’s legal counsel regarding this matter. Automattic’s counsel, like Facebooks, represents their corporate interests, not those of WordPress. More and more those corporate interests are overtly counter to WordPress’ interests.

    Vue.js seems a perfectly suitable alternative. What has been learned from Gutenberg so far could be used to start over with a clearer UX vision. Iterating into something really amazing.

    • Occasionally someone raises the idea of forking WordPress and creating a new platform. Never has it made any sense due to how many plugins and themes exist for WordPress.

      This is the perfect opportunity to fork WP. If it’s ever going to happen and be a success. Now is the time and not just because of this recent matter. I say so because of a number of things that now amount to a new era for WP.

      • Say the word Ryan and I will start designing themes for the fork :)

        Actually, what I would like to see is a full CMS built as a fork from WP; something that can compete with Drupal, Joomla, and others. WP has and always will be a blogging platform unless someone takes on the idea of a WP CMS.

      • I doubt a fork will ever happen as there are so many great alternatives already. For example Grav: Grav is a modern open source flat-file CMS.

        I recently released a plugin called Lean WP, which makes WordPress clean and lean again. Have a look at it and let me know how you like it trimming down the WP backend.

  5. I wonder how Matt reconciles his absolutist stand on the GPL ( see Thesis and that vendors selling non-GPL licensed software can’t sponsor WordCamps, etc) with using a clearly encumbered package like React.

    It was one thing to consider it when it was possible that FB would loosen the license and making it BSD vs GPL strikes me as a minor issue. But leaving it as is and using it in WP also strikes me as a close to hypocritical stance for someone who’s so vocal about the rest of the code, even plugins and themes, being GPL.

    WordPress’ new Gutenberg editor is also built using React, as the project’s chief contributors are employed by Automattic

    The entanglement between Automattic and WP has always been problematic. In general, it’s been far more to the good side – I think that’s obvious. But when there are major, directional decisions being made I don’t know a) that any one contributor should have such overwhelming weight in making the decision and b) how the interests of each party are reconciled. WP the project shouldn’t be saddled with React officially just because a relative handful of developers at Automattic like it.

  6. Choosing React that way was wrong, pushing it further was foolish, and now if we keep using React in the core that will be madness! Vue was far far better choice. Its not about sticking to our word and being arrogant, it’s a matter of risky future and further damage.

    • For me JSX is reason not to use React at all, this is something some people find great and others do not. So ‘easy choice’ is a bit misleading here unless it is framed as a personal opinion.

      I’m not sure how much additional benefit there would be to go with the lib with the largest ecosystem, the benefits seem relatively minor to me?

      Most of the alternatives largely follow similar conventions as React so either way we’d be picking something that is up to date. The whole purpose of the exercise is to use a tool that makes building interfaces easier and better. I haven’t seen anyone expand on how React’s larger ecosystem makes it better suited on that front, but maybe someone can add some thoughts about that?

      Just as a general observation I’ve noticed no one explain why exactly React would be a special fit for WordPress’s own particular needs, it seems to boil down to ‘it’s the most popular’ and ‘it’s what we use at work’. There doesn’t seem to be a wholly superior technical reason why React would solve problems in core better than other approaches, or why it’s worth the effort of to impose additional tooling requirements, or why its worth dismissing concerns around the higher barriers to entry for newcomers, or why its worth overlooking the license factor or why it’s worth affiliating with a corporation that is hostile to the open web.

  7. Should we try to imagine why React was open sourced at first?

    Back then, it might be a fast way to improve it.

    A faster better React, a faster better Facebook, open sourcing it might mean back then.

    If the previous thoughts are someway correct, then we could remember that it was not the first aim of open sourcing React to be a great public tool for everyone. It could be a good consequence, but not a first objective.

    And then if troubles began to arise, the “open sourceness” of React could, as it is happening, be harmed.

    If, again, this chain of thoughts are in some way correct, we can conclude a couple of things:

    1. React may not anymore need fast improvement, on Facebook eyes, at least not at the expense of handling troubles or lawsuits.

    2. The community should open its eyes and know that a truly open source tool is better than a great one, but not “that” open sourced as it should be.

    This is a long chain of thoughts, and the probability of a mistaken thought or a wrong analysis is big. So, this is only a “guess”, a small opinion, to be criticized and further evaluated.

    • Of course it was open sourced for nothing but self interest. Companies like Google and FB are not open sourcing things because they have some moral vision and want to make the world a better place.

      They do it because they get free fixes and its just the most efficient, fast and secure way to develop software out in the open. Even M$ is moving heavily into the open source direction for that reason alone.

      • Absolutely, and that’s also why it’s in my opinion a huge mistake to rely on these companies as a dependency of WordPress core.

        In the end Google and Facebook have their own objectives and they are partially battling with WordPress to get a piece of the same pie.

        It’s totally understandable why Facebook has made this decision. In the end it’s a company, trying to protect market share and their revenue streams. Most capable managers would do the same.

        Now it’s up to the responsible people who chose React to act professionally, admit a mistake and decide on new ways to move things forward with putting WordPress at risk.


    This is a non-issue, unless you are a facesheep.

    We will just find another blogging tool that doesn’t use patent polluted code. (WordPress is not the only tool on the block, its just the one with the most sheep following it… currently.)

  9. This development should inform the decision on what JavaScript framework to adopt in WordPress core. While Automattic and its lawyers may feel comfortable using React under its current license for its corporate endeavors, WordPress is an open source project through and through, and I am not sure the current React license, and in particular the reasoning Facebook uses to apply that license, is in the spirit of open source as WordPress defines it.

    I hope the discussion of what JavaScript framework to adopt in core will include an extensive legal analysis.

    • We should not require lawyers to pass the ‘smell test’ for an non-typical license, if it smells – which it does – it should be passed over. A legal opinion won’t make the smell away. The idea of seeking legal advice on this issue suggests we’d be willing to tolerate some friction as long as a lawyer gives the green light. This would be like needlessly straying from a principle that has gotten WordPress this far: a full embrace of OSS licenses that favour no specific business over the other.

      • That sounds sensible but isn’t it at the same time illustrative of something gone wrong with our decision making? Automattic received a positive legal opinion on React and somehow it satisfied Matt. Matt has been one of the staunchest defenders of the GPL, I can’t imagine for a second he feels a 100% okay with FB’s license. On some level he decided to tolerate the smell of it. I don’t think that’s a good way to go about decisions that will affect an entire OSS community, especially when there are alternatives out there with no such baggage. That’s why I think legal analysis does not resolve such an issue in any satisfying way.

  10. We do general client websites with WP and ecom sites for clients with Shopify (as a partner.) Since both leverage their codebase with React, and since we know React, it is in our interest for things to stay as they are. However, I have to agree with most of the others here that given FB’s license, React is simply not a good choice for the WP community.

    Of course no final decision has been made and so it would not surprise me if WP threw their support behind vue.js as it is fairly similar and has a bit less of a learning curve. (Note: I’ve not seen vue’s license.)

    I don’t understand why Shopify uses React… you just know that FB is itching to get into its market and when/if they do Shopify may find itself all alone in a place they don’t want to be.


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