We've always believed fair-code was the best model for building n8n. That's because fair-code offers people many of the same benefits of open source (e.g. extensibility, security, privacy, transparency) while also ensuring you can build a sustainable business.
Until now, the fair-code licensing arrangement we used was Apache 2.0 with Commons Clause. Unfortunately, we found that arrangement created some ambiguity and confusion, and it wasn't as permissive as we'd like.
To solve those problems and make it as clear and transparent as possible what you can do with n8n, we are switching today to the new Sustainable Use License.
What changes with the Sustainable Use License
For most n8n users, the new license will probably not make any difference.
There are two main differences between our previous license arrangement and the new Sustainable Use License:
- Tightening the definition of what use is permitted: Previously, the Commons Clause restricted users’ ability to “sell” the software; now we restrict use to “internal business purposes”. We felt this drew a clearer line for users.
- Lifting consulting fees: Our previous license restricted people’s ability to charge fees for consulting or support services related to the software; in the new license, we have lifted that restriction altogether. This means you are now free to offer commercial consulting or support services (e.g. building n8n workflows or building n8n nodes for clients) without the need for a separate license agreement with us.
The new license will be applied from March 17th, 2022 to all our code hosted in our main GitHub repository.
Why we created a new license
We believe the software development community benefits most from fewer, standardized licenses. We evaluated all the potential existing options we could find, but none fulfilled all our requirements. That’s why we resorted to our least favorite option: creating our own license. We’re not the first to do this––other companies (e.g. MongoDB, Confluent, Redis, Elastic, Cockroach) have also created their own licenses over the last few years with similar goals in mind.
We have tried to minimize the burden for users of having to read a new license by keeping it as short as possible, and using plain English. We also want to raise awareness of the umbrella term “fair-code” to describe licenses with similar sets of permissions and restrictions to ours.
With permission from our friends at Elastic, we used the Elastic License 2.0 as a basis for the Sustainable Use License. We are very grateful to them for their encouragement and support, and in turn, we encourage anyone who wants to use the Sustainable Use License for their project. Get in touch if we can help with any questions about licensing!
Setting a new standard for software licenses with fair-code
It has become common for other businesses (especially cloud providers) to capture the value created by open-source projects and monetize it, with little to no return to the original developers. This doesn’t feel fair.
If we, the product creators, don’t capture some of that value, we can’t support and improve the product properly, and everyone misses out. Products that are solving a big enough problem (like n8n does) eventually need hundreds, even thousands, of people to keep up the work involved in development: releasing features, fixing bugs, and providing reliable software at scale. It’s very hard to do this kind of constant high-quality work without positive cash flow.
That’s why it’s important to establish an easily recognizable software model based on fair-code values. With the Sustainable Use License, we have a bigger vision: making fair-code an easily recognizable software model, and paving the way for other companies to follow us.
With this new fair-code license, we want to set a new standard for licenses that permit software to be used for free, extended, widely distributed, and have source code openly available, all while having commercial restrictions on use.