The Cloud Native Compute Foundation acquires RethinkDB’s source code

Here’s some unusual news: the Cloud Native Compute Foundation (CNCF) today announced that it has acquired the RethinkDB copyright and assets, including its code, and contributed it to The Linux Foundation. RethinkDB, which had raised about $12.2 million in venture capital for its open-source database, went out of business in October 2016. The CNCF says it paid $25,000 to complete this transaction. The code will now be available under the Apache license.

The CNCF is a Linux Foundation hosted project that focuses more on containers (Kubernetes is probably its flagship project) than databases, so it makes sense for the organization to move RethinkDB to the Linux Foundation and not maintain it itself. It’s worth noting that RethinkDB supports clustering out of the box, so there was already some overlap between the CNCF’s and RethinkDB’s mission. The CNCF’s members include the likes of Cisco, Docker, Google, CoreOS, Intel, IBM, RedHat, Samsung, and Mesosphere.

It’s typically the companies themselves that donate code to the organizations like the Linux or Apache Foundation. While $25,000 obviously isn’t a lot of money for the companies involved here, but as the Linux Foundation told me, it wasn’t up to RethinkDB to donate the code anymore after it went into bankruptcy.

“RethinkDB didn’t own the copyright anymore,” Dan Kohn, executive director of CNCF told me when I asked him about this. “There was a lien holder — someone who had lent money to Rethink. The lien holder owned the copyright. They’re the ones we paid the $25,000 to for the purchased the copyright and the assets.”

In its previous incarnation, RethinkDB used the GNU Affero General Public License (version 3). The Linux Foundation argues that the restrictions of the license meant that very few companies were willing to contribute to the project. That wasn’t much of an issue while the RethinkDB company was the core contributor of the project, but after that company went under, it meant the code was mostly lingering on GitHub.

“CNCF saw the opportunity to salvage an enormous investment with a small incremental contribution,” said Kohn. “RethinkDB created millions of dollars worth of value and is used by a wide range of projects, companies and startups. Now that the software is available under the Apache license, the RethinkDB community has the opportunity to define the future path for themselves.”