Applications and Use Cases

Holochain Develop First Open Source License Designed for Decentralized Apps


February 25, 2020

An open-source license for software and decentralized applications has newly been approved by the Open Source Initiative, designed in particular to protect the security of end-users’ by protecting their rights, ownership of data, and control of their cryptographic keys. The Cryptographic Autonomy License (CAL) has been developed by the team at Holo in collaboration with open-source lawyer Van Lindberg with a focus on enabling decentralized applications. 

“People realize that today, they are not in control of their identities and user data on existing

web-based platforms,” says Lindberg. “The CAL changes that. It is the first open-source license that recognizes that a user’s data and identity are directly tied to how the software works.”

Gibraltar-based Holo is a company dedicated to developing a thriving peer-to-peer Internet, by permitting anyone access to distributed applications by entering a URL alone into a web browser. For this, they have developed a hosting platform built upon their Holochain framework which is the first large-scale application built using the technology. They believe that by giving everyone access to the distributed Internet by empowering individuals, fostering trust, and helping to build prosperous communities, there will be a change in how we use it and how we benefit from it daily.

“Breakthroughs in decentralized computing shows promise for new patterns of organizing ourselves—sometimes replacing the need for certain centralizing institutions. But this requires ensuring people’s autonomy over their data and cryptographic keys,” says Holochain Co-Founder, Arthur Brock.

Although CAL is relevant to any application, the license was commissioned by Holo to support Holochain, a framework for developing distributed applications that enable a distributed web with user autonomy built directly into its architecture and protocols.

“With the rise of blockchain and other decentralized platforms, it’s more important than ever to ensure end-user rights to their data and control of their keys,” says Brock. “This license bans use of our software to build an app where people think they’re in control of their data, but in fact, the app developer has kept copies of seeds or private keys which would allow them to take over control.”

“The CAL is copy-left -- which means it is good for the open-source community and more generally for end-users, but it is also flexible for developers and businesses because it includes exceptions for linked and co-compiled code. This means that you can develop apps modularly such that have different licenses that are used for different parts of a system, producing a product with the right types of protections.”

For crypto software development communities, the CAL and Holochain are a welcome addition as it generates a way to protect the rights of the people and their data. Key features of the CAL include:

  • Protection of the rights of end-users of distributed and cloud-based apps, ensuring users ownership of their data, the ability to operate the software independently, and control of their cryptographic keys
  • The CAL is a strong reciprocal (“copyleft”) license that ensures any code contributions remain open and available for ongoing use
  • It has a built-in mechanism for allowing exceptions for linked or co-compiled code, preserving a distinction between applications built on a licensed framework itself vs. other connected applications.
  • It applies to all users of the software, including delivering services over a network, as well as to new implementations that copy elements of the software interfaces into new Applications.

For distributed application frameworks in which the architecture ensures that users have control over their data, and where ownership and control are required to be considered in the licensing model, such as Holochain, the CAL is fundamental. Where other groups working with different technology stacks or frameworks in which they want to legally and securely ensure end-user rights in reference to control of their data and identity, the CAL will also be significant. 

“We made this license because it seemed irresponsible to provide decentralized tech without these kinds of protections for end-users, and there’s no other license that has them.” States Brock.

Mary Camacho, Executive Director of Holo, says, "the Cryptographic Autonomy License (the CAL) is the first open-source license that addresses a fundamental shift in technology towards decentralized applications. In this new world, users do not have to give their data to a centralizing entity. By using a Holochain application licensed with the CAL, ownership of their own data is protected both structurally and now legally."

“The tide has turned when it comes to the way that personal data is being viewed and protected. With this new open-source license, the end-users are not only assured of their rights, but it meets many of the explicit requirements of these new regulations.” She continues, “End-users of software really want to know about this license because when it is used, they will know they are retaining the rights they want - to control their identity and to own their own data.”

Camacho is thrilled to see months of hard work come to fruition, “Holo is proud to be involved in the process that has made this license available. We are grateful to the communities of people who have given feedback and helped to make the license evolve to meet the needs of the changing technology landscape. We appreciate especially Van Lindberg’s role in preparing the legal text and the engagement of the licensing committee at the OSI for their diligent review process.”


Arti Loftus is an experienced Information Technology specialist with a demonstrated history of working in the research, writing, and editing industry with many published articles under her belt.

Edited by Maurice Nagle

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