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All content by Kyle E. Mitchell, who is not your lawyer.

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Amazon Has a Restricted License, Toothis is not a bad thing

For all the brouhaha over new company licenses keeping code from Amazon, it utterly slipped my mind that Amazon has its own restricted, “source-available” license, too. You can find it in the wild and on Here’s the crux:

3.3 Use Limitation. The Work and any derivative works thereof only may be used or intended for use with the web services, computing platforms or applications provided by, Inc. or its affiliates, including Amazon Web Services, Inc.

In other words, “you can use this software for whatever, but only with AWS or other Amazon platforms and apps”. No using with Google Cloud Platform or Azure. No using without Amazon services at all.

I didn’t initially class this license with the defensive terms we’ve seen from smaller companies. It doesn’t speak in terms of competition with the developer, like PolyForm Shield. Nor does it prohibit free riding against the original project, like PolyForm Perimeter. But the Amazon license’s permissions are in fact more restrictive, and strictly so. They allow fewer uses than the self-defense forms.

A few years back, I published some templates for writing licenses with use rules called “Normally Open” and “Normally Closed”. The concept was that if you want a rule about how people can use your software, you can implement it two ways: as a rule for what people can do, or as a rule for what they can’t. Allow-rule or deny-rule. The defensive PolyForm licenses are “normally open”: they allow all uses except using the developer’s own software against them. Amazon’s license is “normally closed”: it prohibits all uses except those with Amazon services.

I don’t see anything to criticize in Amazon’s use of this license. Amazon knows how to deploy services, rather than distributing code, and has delivered no few “custom” solutions to larger customers under private contract. If it couldn’t put terms like this in LICENSE for its repos, some of those repos might not be public in the first place.

The principle of the thing isn’t that putting new rules in licenses for published code is somehow unworkable or wrong. The principle is that we get a lot from firms through competition, and under competition, the ability to tailor license terms for published code makes more software visible and usable to more people earlier than if distribution could only be full public-open or totally private and closed.

That principle applies just as well to Amazon as its competitors.

Your thoughts and feedback are always welcome by e-mail.

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