Sep 192009

Open Source software has many elements – code, design, documentation, licensing …. and something quite different to other software – community governance. This governance is often ad hoc, created by goodwill and what used to quaintly be called a “gentleman’s agreement”. This is fine when it works and everyone is playing nicely in the sandbox.

The Koha Fork

On September 11, Open Source Library Software support company, Liblime, took their bat and ball and went home from the Koha playground. With them they took tens of thousands of dollars worth of development for one client that they will now only allow others to access if they agree to use a hosted version of Liblime Enterprise Koha . Yes, they intend to “eventually” release the code back to the community, but what are other developers meant to do in the meantime? Stop working on bits of Koha that they *suspect* might be in the Liblime version? Keep working as though the extra features – which are desired by many other libraries – still need to be developed?

Liblime are entitled to do this under the GNU GPL license, as hosting does not constitute “distribution” which has certain rights and responsibilities under the license.  There is an Open Source license – an Affero General Public License – that closes this loophole. Unfortunately for Koha the license wasn’t written until 2002 – two years after Koha was gifted to the community by the Horowhenua Library Trust .

Forking is not unprecedented in library Open Source Software. VuFind has several forks and this seems to be the community choice. See Going With and Forking VuFind for more details .This is *not* the first fork of Koha – there is already Koha Plus at Sourceforge, and Australian Company Proscentient Systems has been offering a hosted fork of Koha – Intersearch ILS for over a year.

Liblime however,  own and administer the domain and have trademarked the name “Koha” in the United States, so they have played a key role in the Koha community up until now. Liblime deny that they are withdrawing from the Koha community, but this is not how the community is viewing it. Jo Ransom, who was instumental in creating Koha in New Zealand in 1999, claims that Liblime Forks Koha . This t-shirt by another prominent Koha community member says a lot:

Marshall Breeding has suggested that a more librarian-focused and formal governance structure modelled on the Kuali Foundation may be a better solution in his Open Letter to the Koha Community. Thomas Brevik has suggested that there may be a role for an organisation like IFLA,  Where goes Koha? Roy Tennant has compared the commercial forking of Koha to that of Redhat Linux, Liblime to the Koha Community: Fork You.  Karen Schneider makes the point that this development highlights the role that Open Source software must play in the future of librarianship, It Takes a Village: Koha and open source leadership .

I do not know how much of the fork was driven by the client who contracted Liblime to create the changes. I think it would be extremely short-sighted to see any economic value in taking a base product created by millions of dollars worth of coding and design expertise, then paying tens of thousands of dollars for extra features but also cutting oneself off from working openly and collaboratively with other coders in future developments.

Being the change you want to see

Liblime’s behaviour has been correct to the letter -but not the spirit -of their Open Source license;  and ultimately likely to do them a lot of economic damage.

The big, bold silver lining to the cloud, however, has been the behaviour of other Open Source Library software support companies in the last week.

Two other major Koha support companies, BibLibre from France and ByWater Solutions have hired Nicole Engard to continue on as documentation manager (“until she drops” according to her announcement, Moving Up and Remaining Open ). Nicole was working as Open Source Evangelist at Liblime until September 11, the same day as the forking announcement.

Instead of pointing out Liblime’s bad behaviour, Equinox–  the main support company for the Evergreen Open Source Library Management System –  released a statement outlining their commitment to their community. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and through my geeky “I find Open Source Library Software fascinating” eyes, this is a beautiful statement about  the spirit of Open Source library software.

The Equinox Promise: An Open Letter to the Evergreen Community

We at Equinox Software feel it is timely to share an evolving document we call the Equinox Promise.

We invite engagement and feedback from everyone, and encourage other vendors to come up with similar statements, or join in on ours.

The Equinox Promise

In 2007, Equinox Software was founded by a group of dedicated people who believe that open source software offers libraries unheralded opportunities to engage in the process of designing the tools they use.

A software company can never speak for the open source communities it serves. But we at Equinox believe we owe our communities a clear statement of our commitments to everyone associated with the Evergreen open source project—whether you are customers of Equinox, Evergreen community members, affiliated vendors, or those who support and champion open source development.

We believe in a transparent, open software development process, and we promise to do everything we can to maintain and improve transparency in every part of that process.

We believe Evergreen code belongs to the Evergreen community, and we promise to continue to expeditiously release all code to publicly-available repositories.

We believe in one single set of code that in the spirit and letter of open source software is free for everyone to download, use, and modify, and we promise that in concert with the community and other development partners, we will work hard to maintain that single code set.

We believe we have a responsibility to the Evergreen community to help keep Evergreen open in every way, and we promise we will never agree to hide code we can share.

We believe that Evergreen deserves community-based stewardship through foundations, user groups, interest groups, conferences, and similar activities, and we promise to encourage that stewardship in every way we can.

We believe that the community is the true voice of Evergreen, and we promise to listen and to share, and to help build and maintain the tools that enable this communication.

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  12 Responses to “The Koha fork and being the change you want to see”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Sally SetsForth and Thomas Brevik. Thomas Brevik said: RT @libsmatter: New blog post: The Koha fork and being the change you want to see […]

  2. Thanks for the heads-up on LibLime’s actions. This post is particularly timely for us as we are exploring our options in changing ILS vendors. I have been studying the open-source guys rather intently, myself being a proponent of both the development model and a user of Linux and other Free Open-Source Software (FOSS).

    I really like the offerings of both Equinox and LibLime, but now I’m going to have to think twice about LibLime’s actions. We are not in a great hurry to change, so LibLime bears some watching. Thanks, Kathryn!

  3. Thanks for the great post Kathryn.

    It prompted me to examine why I reacted the way I did to the fork, here’s what I came up with

  4. Thanks for the great post! I’ve been reading bits and pieces about this, but yours is the first post I’ve seen that concisely sums up the whole debacle in a way someone outside the community can easily grasp.

  5. Just caught up with this . Great summary.
    One point I feel needs more traction – and that’s the question as to the status of the Koha Foundation – and how to make this a place which has the mana and the resources to manage the product on behalf of all the stakeholders – including users – libraries – developers – vendors and – enthusiasts

  6. […] The Koha fork and being the change you want to see Share and Enjoy: […]

  7. Kathryn,
    I too have read and read and read and I found your summary of the whole hullabaloo most useful. Thanks for grabbing all the most salient issues and helping guide the conversation.

  8. The Affero GPL does not close the loophole neatly. Libraries could still be locked in by making some or all of their data hard to get, for example. The data is a vital part of a library’s system, after all.

    Sadly, the Affero GPL is based on the absurd idea that one can “ensure cooperation” (see its preamble), whereas we have known for over a century that cooperation must be voluntary to be sustainable: that was one of the Rochdale pioneers’ values. There are also other signficant problems and open questions with AGPL which FSF failed to address during its drafting. I feel it’s a dangerous licence and each use needs checking carefully.

    The promise idea is a good one, similar to debian’s social contract. already has a set of principles along those lines agreed by our members, but it’s mixed up with other working practices which we’ve not published yet – I’ll suggest we make a public promise and probably add it to

  9. Thanks for the feedback. I really needed to clarify my own thoughts on this one.

    In response to Paul….

    The Koha community met via IRC on the 15th September to discuss forming a Koha Foundation. Chat transcript is here:

    They considered a number of immediately possible options for vesting the Koha trademark and domain if Liblime would pass them on. A comparison of the options can be found here:

    For the next two weeks people with an interest in the future of Koha are asked to vote in a survey about the options for creating a Foundation. The poll is here:

  10. What about the Spanish Koha Fork at

  11. […] When the sale of LibLime was announced, the community was cautiously optimistic. The web was full of posts of community members, outsiders and librarians alike thinking that maybe this meant that things could go back to normal, back to the way they were, back to one community working together as it should be instead of one company trying to make “community” sound like a bad word. […]

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