Eben Moglen to European Commission: Have Faith in the GPLv2

by Ostatic Staff - Dec. 04, 2009

Another voice heard on the European Commission's objection to Oracle's purchase of Sun Microsystems. This time, Eben Moglen has weighed in with an analysis of the objections related to the GNU General Public License version 2 (GPLv2). Moglen disagrees with the commission, and says that the GPLv2 is sufficient to protect the MySQL community apart from Oracle.

According to the commission, the GPLv2 provides "inadequate protection" for third parties to work with MySQL if the deal goes through. This has been supported by Richard M. Stallman, who opposes the deal along with Knowledge Ecology International.

However, Moglen — who has worked with the Free Software Foundation in the past as general counsel, and worked with Stallman and the FSF to draft the GNU General Public License version 3 (GPLv3) — argues that the GPLv2 is sufficent to protect MySQL:

In my view, the SO reaches an incorrect conclusion in supposing that GPL itself provides insufficient protection against anti-competitive conduct by a copyright holder in Oracle’s putative position. All scenarios likely to result from Oracle’s acquisition of the copyrights, whatever Oracle’s business intentions may be, are tolerable from the point of view of securing the freedom of the codebase, which is the primary concern of the communities I represent.

The entire opinion is 11 pages and lays out specific reasons and similar cases where the GPL or similar licenses have protected major projects. For instance, Moglen cites OpenOffice.org and redistributions by Novell (my employer) and IBM.

Moglen also cites projects held by the FSF have been forked "against the Foundation's wishes," the EGCS fork of the GNU Compiler Collection (GCC) and the XEmacs fork of GNU Emacs. In both cases, the GPLv2 provided sufficent protection for the community to take projects in a different direction than the original copyright holder.

While Oracle's acquisition of Sun/MySQL may not be the optimal situation for the MySQL community, historically the GPLv2 has provided sufficient protection to projects to ensure that they can live and thrive if there's sufficient community interest.

The opinion was submitted at the request of Oracle, and Moglen notes that Oracle is a minor (less than five percent) to the SFLC. The EU will be holding a hearing on the deal December 10th. The deal has already been approved by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier is a longtime FOSS advocate, and currently works for Novell as the community manager for openSUSE. Prior to joining Novell, Brockmeier worked as a technology journalist covering the open source beat for a number of publications, including Linux Magazine, Linux Weekly News, Linux.com, UnixReview.com, IBM developerWorks, and many others.