Oracle, MySQL and the GPL: don't take Monty's word for it
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Oracle, MySQL and the GPL: don't take Monty's word for it
by John Mark Walker - Dec. 16, 2009Comments (9)
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In the continuing soap opera of Oracle's battle against the European Commission for the right to acquire Sun, and with it, MySQL, we have had to rely on the bloggers and analysts to get it right, because the media surely has not. Before you read any further, stop right now and read Matthew Aslett's excellent summary of Oracle-MySQL through last week, Pamela Jones' excellent piece on the matter (and her later update), and Matt Asay's highlighting of Monty Widenius' conflict of interest in opposing the Sun acquisition.One of the more damaging consequences of this case is the opportunistic piling on of the GPL license. Monty, apparently, now hates the GPL - the license that MySQL chose so they could sell licenses for the proprietary version. And now, every BSD Tom, Dick and Harry with an axe to grind about Richard Stallman, the GPL, and GNU has stepped up to the plate, on cue, to deliver unsubstantiated rants against the GPL. Oh yeah, and don't forget that Linux kicked the s*** out of BSD and some folks are still sore about that. And in the ultimate irony, Richard Stallman himself joined the fray against... Richard Stallman? The first thing that the anti-GPL FUD brigade latches onto is that the GPL effectively prevents forking a project. This is baseless. As we all know, trademark law doesn't just apply to the GPL. If a company owns the trademark for X, you can't just sell a different version of X and call it that. Red Hat has aggressively used trademark law to pursue Red Hat clones, as has a number of other companies that sell open source products. What the GPL *does* forbid, however, is forking code you don't own the copyright for and then issuing the forked project under another license, which effectively kills any outside attempts at the dual license strategy championed by MySQL and now Oracle. A BSD-style license wouldn't frown on someone taking someone else's code and incorporating it into their products, as long as they comply with the stipulations that accompany those licenses. The GPL expressly forbids the dual license approach, but it does not in any way, shape or form prevent someone from forking MySQL. Matt Asay and others have argued that this effectively kills any forking of GPL projects, but you'll note that the trademark law, mentioned above, already does that anyway, regardless of license. Quick, name any commercially-backed open source project that was forked and eclipsed the original project -  Joomla - Mambo is the one that comes immediately to mind, which is licensed under the GPL2, thus negating that argument. Whether issued under reciprocal licenses a la the GPL or more liberal licenses, such as BSD and Apache, a successful fork is a pretty rare event. If the GPL more successfully prevented forks, then there would surely be empirical evidence of such. At this stage, the BSD-style advocates want us to take that as an article of faith, but I'm not buying it until someone can show me actual evidence.  Now who would oppose an action that prevented the dual licensing of MySQL by a party that's not Oracle? Could it be someone who has forked the MySQL code and is now looking to use the very same dual license strategy? Now guess who's forked MySQL and could really use the permission to dual license it. Any guesses? Surprise! It's Monty Widenius! So let's see if I've got this right - there's another company that stands to lose money if Oracle is allowed to utilize the GPL2 to its fullest extent and has now petitioned the European Commission to stop the acquisition because... Monty's European and the EC should protect their own? Seriously, if someone can show me a scenario that doesn't involve Monty being hopelessly compromised, opportunistic and self-serving, you're welcome to point that out in the comments. Until then, I recommend you follow the money, or in this case, the potential money. One would think that paid journalists would have been on the ball and pointed out Monty's inherent conflict of interest, but that's expecting too much. I wasn't even going to comment on this case, because the people I respect have gotten it right, except that the technology press continues to get it so wrong. Thank goodness that informed bloggers are around to set the story straight. By the way, I'm not suggesting that Oracle is great, and that there's nothing to fear from them. I'm only pointing out that those leading the anti-acquisition campaign are resorting to underhanded tactics and not disclosing their own bias. It's not OK to say we're for a specific license only when the company that utilizes said license passes our own personal smell test. That smacks of cronyism and flies in the face of what open source is supposed to be.
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by Jack Repenning on Dec. 16, 2009GPL does not inhibit fork: check.
Monumental conflict-of-interest best explains the EU/MySQL dance: check.
Old wounds and endless rivalries rush to the fore: check.
GPL expressly forbids dual-licensing: hold on ...
GPL effectively forbids anyone _but_the_copyright_holder_ from dual-licensing. The copyright holder can still manage it, as we've seen, and the full power of the GPL then backs their monopoly (on the commercialization, not on the source of course). The copyright holder has a disproportionate power.
When the GPL copyright holders were rms, or FSF, or other advocates of software Freedom-not-merely-Openness, this disproportion worked in favor of freedom--because the copyright holder wanted it that way. Even when MySQL AB, a commercial entity with commercial interests, held the copyright, it was mostly OK because they continued to support freedom in useful, and largely gracious, ways, such as the famous "FLOSS Exception." But it was always intellectual-property judo, a black-belt throw all the more amazing in that the freedom advocates lying on the mat, for the most part, never noticed their downfall.
Now, there's a squabble among the largish crowd accumulated there. It's petty and self-serving: check. It's hopeless, since the GPL retains its power and disproportion: check. But it's also years too late. The GPL as a legal document stands supreme; the GPL as an engine of social change completely undermined itself long ago.
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by roddick charl on Dec. 17, 2009This is very useful and informative article for the Oracle reader...................Enhanced Kre-Alkalyn
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by Michael Widenius on Dec. 17, 2009Hi John, nice to get a chance to defend myself :)
First, I have never said that the GPL is a bad license. In my blog, I say "I think that GPL is a fantastic license" and I mean it.
What I said is that for an infrastructure project like MySQL, who in this context is comparable to a library, GPL is a bad license in a hand of an owner that has much to gain by killing the project as an Open Source project.
You can fork a GPL infrastructure project, but not the economics around it. For a project like MySQL, it's almost impossible for a fork to generate enough money to ensure it's developed in a manner that the environment need and it can't be used with all applications. This means that the project has no long term future. That is what I wrote about in my blog that I refereed to above.
It's true that Joomla - Mambo was forked, but this is not a project that lives in a concentrated market with fierce competition and where they are often combined with closed source distributed application (which is the case of MySQL).
As earlier pointed out, the GPL does not forbid the dual license approach.
EC has come to the conclusion that MySQL and Oracle are competing products and MySQL puts price pressures on Oracle. (This can be deduced as EC issued a statement of objection because of MySQL).
To be able to approve the deal the EC has to ensure that Oracle / Sun / MySQL deal there is as much competition in the database market as before the deal.
In this scenario, there has only been proposed two viable solutions (that I know about):
1) MySQL is divested to another company or foundation that also can sell licensing to ensure that MySQL can be used by all applications and with all extensions.
2) MySQL license is changed to a permissive license, so that if Oracle stops supporting it, someone can fork it, continue the development and compete with Oracle in all segments.
In case 2) no one can do dual licensing on the MySQL code. Not Oracle, Monty Program Ab or anyone else.
It's true that 2) would allow an application vendor to combine their closed source code with MySQL freely (like Enterprise DB is doing), which is good as this would allow MySQL and PostgreSQL to compete on equal licensing terms.
This case has nothing to do about any company loosing money (except anyone using MySQL who may soon have to start paying for upgrades). This case is about ensuring that Oracle doesn't gain money and market share by killing an Open Source competitor. Today MySQL, tomorrow PostgreSQL.
Yes, PostgreSQL can also be killed; To prove the case, think what would happen if someone managed to ensure that the top 20 core PostgreSQL developers could not develop PostgreSQL anymore or if each of these developers would fork their own PostgreSQL project.
Yes, I agree that I have a conflict of interest; I don't only want to ensure that competition will continue in the database market, I also want to ensure that MySQL keeps on living as a successful Open Source project. If Oracle gets MySQL under the current terms, that is not likely to happen.
When it comes to money, Monty Program Ab has more to gain if Oracle gets MySQL than if MySQL is divested (as pointed out by Kurt: and we would then get more money to put into developing MariaDB.
However, as Monty Program Ab is a company that is in effect (thanks to the Hacking business model) owned by it's employees, I have no notable financial gains to get from saving MySQL; In the best case I may get the money back that I now put into trying to save MySQL and develop MariaDB, but even this is not very likely. After 9 months of work, we still have burn rate of 100,000 euro per month, even if some of us is not lifting any salary; This is the reality when doing a fork and which is why it's almost impossible to succeed with one for a big infrastructure project like MySQL!
The conclusion is: I am probably putting in more money and time than anyone else into trying to ensure that MySQL is kept alive as an open Source Project and to ensure that the developers of MySQL gets a good home where they can spend all their time producing Open Source code (we are committed to only do Open Source code, which can easily be verified at
As you can easily verify on the weg site, we are 100 % open in everything we do and we don't have any hidden agenda. Why should we, life is so much easier when you are transparent!
If you still don't believe in me, call me and I will fill you in on anything you want to know. You can find my contact information on
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by andy smith on Dec. 17, 2009>>>>
GPL effectively forbids anyone _but_the_copyright_holder_ from dual-licensing. The copyright holder can still manage it, as we've seen, and the full power of the GPL then backs their monopoly (on the commercialization, not on the source of course). The copyright holder has a disproportionate power.
Its copyright law not the GPL which gives the copyright owner the power to license his work under as many licenses as he wants too.
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by an anonymous user on Dec. 18, 2009....EC has come to the conclusion that MySQL and Oracle are competing products and MySQL puts price pressures on Oracle.....
This can only be because they have bad advice and little understanding. MySql is a competitor for Firebird and PostgreSql, but never Oracle 11 and not really even MS SqlServer.
Oracle will now span almost the whole DB spectrum, but there is no evidence to suggest that would be bad. Have Oracle not contributed to the Linux source?
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by John Mark Walker on Dec. 18, 2009Jack - the GPL doesn't forbid dual-licensing. I meant to specify that the non-copyright holder cannot dual license, thus the use of the word "outside". Sorry if that wasn't clear.
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by John Mark Walker on Dec. 18, 2009Monty - thank you for responding. I'm going to move your comment into its own article so that it's more visible.
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by Micahel Widenius on Dec. 18, 2009About EC:
EC come to the conclusion that MySQL and Oracle competes based on statistics, user feedback and customer studies (standard procedure in cases like this).
It's true that MySQL doesn't compete with Oracle in all cases, but for 80 % of all new applications MySQL is competing with Oracle.
(When it comes to old applications, no database can easily replace Oracle).
This is something that every MySQL sales persons knows; When going to a customer case, we are mostly competing with Oracle and in many cases only Oracle. In the cases they don't get a deal it's almost only because Oracle discounts their product heavily. I have even heard of cases where the Oracle licenses has been discounted from 40,000 USD per server to less then 3000 per server when they where competing just with MySQL.
I think this is a clear sign that there is competition between MySQL and Oracle.
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by Website Design Company on Feb. 12, 2010Hi, Dear John Mark Walker, Looking your article "Oracle, MySQL and the GPL: don't take Monty's word for it" is very funny and informative.I wanted to thank you for this great read!! I definitely enjoying every little bit of it and I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post.
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