I have just changed the software license of BigBang from GPLv2 to AGPL-3.0.
Soon, I won't have the ability to make such a decision unilaterally. This
sort of decision will only be made by community agreement. You may all soon
decide to reverse this decision and if so I won't block the change.
However, I wanted to "nudge" the project in this way and explain my
When we started the BigBang project years ago, we had to address the
question of software licensing. For Free Software principles, I wanted to
copyleft the software. This got push back from some potential contributors
in industry and people interested in partnering with the project
In the end I decided to stay with the GPL license because of a project
mission that is related to Free Software: the educational mission of open
and reproducible research. One reason to build BigBang is to create a
platform for data science education that is available to everybody. Open
data from the projects that around foundational to the Internet, including
standards and protocols, as well as software, are part of the historical
record of how our world has become what it is. As much as any legal or
cultural history, an understanding of this technical history is essential
to our competence as world citizens. It is our shared inheritance. BigBang
is designed to make this technical history available to scholars and
students in the interest of an informed digital citizenry.
The GNU copyleft philosophy is aligned with this educational mission. My
hope is that as contributors to BigBang, we will be conscious of our work
being a contribution to global, civil, and collective self-understanding.
This self-understanding cannot be proprietary; it must be held in common.
GNU licenses prevent "forks" or downstream development work on the project
from being incorporated into proprietary systems. This will give us peace
of mind: our work will be harder to coopt for the kind of private interests
that would make our civil understanding of technology even more difficult.
We met an obstacle early on in committing to these goals through our
software license. This project began at UC Berkeley. And while Berkeley has
a long history of contributions to open source software, we discovered that
it was not an environment compatible with Free Software principles. I have
to give Nick Doty tremendous credit for his patient navigation of
Berkeley's bureaucracy to get an answer to some questions about
intellectual property. Among his findings were that Berkeley permits use of
GPLv2, but forbids use of GPLv3. This is most likely because Berkeley would
like to reserve the right to patent software created by its students, even
if that software is originally licensed open source.
Therefore one of the motivations for moving the BigBang project to
DATACTIVE infrastructure is to position the software as a project of the
University of Amsterdam, rather than of UC Berkeley. I have to ask our
contributors from UvA to follow up on this point. But my hunch is that UvA
is less aggressive about defending its privilege of software patenting than
As the likelihood of Berkeley making any claim to patent contributions to
BigBang is in fact quite low, I must admit that this change in licensing
and the timing of it is perhaps as much a symbolic gesture than a
substantive one. Putting the project under the auspices of DATACTIVE is in
more ways than one a commitment of this project to the public interest. It
may even be a way of steering the project towards a more European vision of
the public interest than a Californian one. All these questions will
ultimately be up to the community to decide.
Thanks for your patience with this long email. More information about GNU
licenses can be found here: