Petition to Re-License React has been Escalated to Facebook’s Engineering Directors

photo credit: manu schwendener

React users are petitioning Facebook to re-license React.js after the Apache Software Foundation announced its decision to ban Apache PMC members from using any technology licensed with Facebook’s BSD+Patents License. So far the GitHub issue has received 627 “thumbs up” emoji and 66 comments from concerned React users who are hoping for a change in licensing.

Many respondents on the thread said that ASF’s decision affects their organizations’ ability to continue using React in projects.

“Apache CouchDB and others will switch away from React if we have to,” CouchDB committer Robert Newson said. “We’d rather not, it’s a lot of work for no real gain, but we don’t have a choice. Changing license can be simple (RocksDB completed that change in a day).”

“My team, at LinkedIn, is also having legal troubles using React for our internal projects,” LinkedIn software Denis Ivanov said. “We would love to see a change on this front.”

Software developer Clark Evans commented on how React’s current licensing might affect medical research institutes, and suggested that Facebook consider an Apache 2.0 license because it includes equitable patent grants.

Since U.S. based universities rely upon patent licensing as part of their legislatively mandated technology transfer initiatives, they are growing far more cautious in their due diligence. For this reason, at some universities, software written with React may be shunned. Existing projects using React software may be asked to remove the React software software dependency. Please strongly consider this proposal, since our RexDB work is used at major universities, we do not wish to rework to use a React alternative.

Several participants in the discussion commented that they would like to use React but the licensing makes it impossible for their companies.

“Other large companies such as mine (Adobe) can’t use React, Pop, etc. for the very same reason,” Corey Lucier said. “We’d love to participate in the project, contribute to each, etc. but Facebook’s heavy-handed PATENTS clause is a showstopper.”

“Even mid-size companies like mine (ViaSat) are starting to disallow the use of Facebook’s ‘open-source’ projects for this reason,” software developer Aaron Yoshitake said. “We’d like to build React web and native apps, but it seems that any sensible legal department will recommend against agreeing to Facebook’s asymmetric patent grant.”

Internal Discussions Continue at Facebook, Re-Licensing Issue has been Escalated to Engineering Directors

Dan Abramov, co-author of Redux, Create React App, and React Hot Loader, shared with participants that Facebook is having internal discussions about the re-licensing issue but cautioned them to temper their optimism. He returned to throw some ice on the conversation, which has grown more heated over the past few days, when he said it could only remain an open discussion if everyone involved remains civil. Many participants are concerned about the future of the React-based software that they have already invested thousands of hours of work into.

“I understand that everyone is frustrated about this issue,” Abramov said. “Personally I am just as frustrated to spend time, energy, and emotional wellbeing on legal mumbo jumbo that is preventing people from using React. I would much prefer to spend this time on working together to make it better.

“But the reality of this situation is that the maintainers of React (people like me that you’re interacting on the issue tracker) are not the ones making these decisions. Each of us is doing what we can to show different perspectives on this issue to the people who can make those decisions, and we appreciate your feedback too. But we can only keep discussion open if everyone stays civil and respectful.”

Abramov also pointed out in a follow-up update that a bug tracker isn’t the best avenue for a legal discussion, especially since most participants are software developers and not lawyers. Many have mistaken the thread as a way to communicate with Facebook but there are just a handful of software developers who are representing the React community’s concerns.

“We have heard you very well, and we have passed on your concerns,” Abramov said. “But repeating the same points over and over in different threads does not help move this forward, and creates a lot of noise and stress for the maintainers who are already empathetic to your cause.”

Several participants expressed frustration that the React community cannot participate in the discussions more directly. However, as React is both an open source project and a product of Facebook, the company’s leadership has the last word on licensing issues.

“I understand that software developers like us are not the best people to discuss legal details,” software consultant Erik Doernenburg said. “However, wouldn’t the logical consequence be that the Facebook Legal team, who make such decisions, become active in this forum? Shouldn’t it be possible that all relevant details pertaining to a piece of open source software are discussed in the open? It is incredibly frustrating to have such an important aspect of open software discussed behind closed doors.”

It’s not known whether Facebook is considering another change to its Patents grant or a complete re-licensing. Participants in the discussion are also concerned about other Facebook open source projects like GraphQL, Relay, React Native, and Flow, which share the same BSD+Patents License and are widely used by the open source community.

Dan Abramov left an update today to let the community know that no resolution is available this week. However, the update seemed more positive than the first one, which discouraged participants from being optimistic about a change.

“I want to point out that there is a real momentum behind this discussion internally,” Abramov said. “There are going to be more meetings next week escalating this up to the engineering directors. As you imagine they are quite busy, so this is taking more time than we thought.

“Again, I can’t promise you any specific conclusion, and there is no clarity on where this will land. But please know there are people working on getting your voice heard.”

15 Comments


  1. I think it’s easy as users of OSS to feel like you have a stake in the future of that software, but maybe that only really extends to the point of refusing to use it if your voice isn’t acknowledged.

    Devil’s advocate: Why should Facebook open source their decision making process? They don’t necessarily owe anything to the community that’s risen around the software they chose to open source. They still own it, and they still call the shots.

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    1. They can indeed call the shots. They can do what they want. But this patent clause, for the reasons in some of the great examples of real life situations in that Github thread, should give WordPress serious pause about including React in core and to power key functionality.

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      1. Well, Gutenberg is already in full force and entirely driven by React. They’d have to rewrite it or scrap the project neither of which I think they would do.

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      2. If companies are already actively avoiding React due to the patent clause on advice of their legal teams… companies will also avoid using and building anything substantial on top of WordPress for the same reasons.

        The excuses some people use to support it by saying companies like Apple have backed down and allow some teams within the company to use React falls apart when you realize that yes… they are letting some teams use it… BUT they aren’t building key products or sites with it. Apple has used it for things like a documentation site for something minor. Inconsequential.

        That isn’t the case for how a lot of people use WordPress to create all kinds of types of sites and even applications.

        What happens when Company A builds something cool using WordPress. Company B likes it and wants to acquire Company A. But during due diligence their legal department red flags the fact React is present in the WordPress mix… and because (if…) WordPress adopted it for core… Company A built their product with React too because they wanted to use what WordPress is using. Company B than pulls the plug in the acquisition because they own some unrelated patents and legal says no go to the React license because of it.

        Another great example of a real world scenario can be found in the Github discussion right here:

        https://github.com/facebook/react/issues/10191#issuecomment-316380810

        These are real scenario and why the React license issue should not be overlooked or brushed off by the WordPress community.

        The silence from the core team and decision makers on this issue in light of the Apache Foundation’s move and the many examples of how the patent clause can be a hinderance to adoption in the discussion surrounding the Apache Foundation’s decision… is deafening.

        Why isn’t this being publicly addressed? Why isn’t WordPress publicly backing those in the React community who are pushing for Facebook to make this change?

        WordPress is big enough to have some influence. More than a bunch of individual Github developers. Why isn’t it leveraging that influence?

        Facebook can license it’s code however it wants. But OS projects like WordPress and other React developers can voice their desire for it to change it and opt to not use it if they do.

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      3. “If the freedom of software intellectual property is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.” – George Washington, March 15, 1783

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    2. Your devil’s advocate question is akin to asking “Why should Coke change its formula to remove strychnine?” While a little extreme it is an apt analogy. This BSD+Patents licensing is causing some huge problems.

      The thing is, Facebook runs the risk of React becoming unusable. I have already seen threads from other developers who are talking about moving their ReactJS-based projects over to VueJS. This will also bring about a shift in developers from ReactJS to VueJS, AngularJS, or whatever framework they switch to.

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  2. @Carl, I agree. I’m worried that not enough consideration went into the decision.

    Thank you, Sarah, for the good reporting in this and the previous article.

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  3. How Facebook chooses to license its products is a matter for Facebook.

    Which software Automattic chooses to use is a matter for Automattic.

    Which software gets bundled with distributed WordPress (i.e. from wordpress.org) is subject to the trusteeship of the WordPress Foundation.

    So what has the Foundation to say about the potential bundling of React with WordPress? Its current silence looks like a dereliction of duty.

    Has it taken legal advice? If so, what did that advice say? If not, why not?

    Maybe Facebook will decide to change the terms of the React license and render all this moot. If not, and React gets bundled with self-hosted WordPress, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see someone take legal action against the WordPress Foundation for breach of trust.

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  4. Maybe Automattic should actively join the petitioners. They are invested in React. An improvement of the license would indirectly benefit them greatly.

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    1. Yeah, we need more big companies to join the petition to get the real attention of Facebook.

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    2. We don’t. The world can nicely exist without React, Automattic or Facebook. What we need is just to stay independent and don’t rely on decisions taken by these companies. Just invest our energy to open source and GPL – products of everybody, not products of these companies.

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  5. Oof. Just had a discussion about this at my local WordCamp, and the opinion of the Automattician I was speaking with was that REACT was most likely going to be chosen over VUE. I don’t see how that can work unless Facebook re-licenses it.

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    1. Really, there’s only one Automattician whose opinion on this really makes a difference, and he’s not decided yet.

      https://twitter.com/photomatt/status/888805062147006467

      There’s more momentum behind React right now, because there seems to be more institutional knowledge and experience by the developers involved in the projects that are working on it, but licensing issues can be a blocker and necessitate a pivot. I honestly could see it going to Vue before merging.

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      1. While I get the familiarity issue, that’s an incredibly poor reason to use when deciding this issue. Developers learn new things all the time. It’s a core skill, frankly. No well run organization makes strategic decisions based on whether or not some developers have to learn new things or not.

        But then, I’m starting to wonder about WP. It feels, still, like a one man show and no matter how good and well-intentioned that person, that’s not really a healthy way to run things.

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