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.”