Last week Eben Moglen, founder and executive director of the Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC), submitted an independent opinion on the Oracle/Sun merger to the European Union (EU). Moglen summarized his submission as follows:
“The GPL was designed specifically to ensure the permanent freedom of software, and the ability of everyone to improve and share their improvements to the program, no matter who acquires the copyrights to the code. The whole point of GPL as a copyright license is to deal with every contingency that could result in hobbling or destroying the freedom of code shared under it. The drafters of GPL versions 2 and 3 considered scenarios very similar to the ones that the Commission is concerned about now. The design of the license, and the experience we have had using it, show that it can be counted upon to operate as intended in situations like this one.”
Moglen issued the 11 page opinion, pro bono and without the charge, at the request of Oracle’s counsel. Moglen clarified that Oracle is an ongoing contributor to the SFLC, while Monty Widenius has contributed in the past. However, neither the contributions from Oracle nor Widenius have exceeded 5 percent of SFLC’s funding since inception.
I found the following paragraph from Moglen’s submission particularly interesting:
“MySQL is now and always has been an atypical GPL software project, because its copyright was highly centralized inside a small commercial firm that considered dual licensing its only commercially attractive strategy for survival. But even MySQL AB’s atypical business model, which was highly unreflective of the mass of GPL’d software development, occurred within the parameters of the GPL’s overall design, which is to ensure the freedom of the software it protects regardless of the commercial motivations or behaviors of the parties distributing the primary upstream version.”
On the other end of the debate, Florian Mueller announced that he has submitted a 31 page rebuttal to Moglen’s position. Mueller provided a summary of the highlights via email, from which I selected these comments:
“Fundamentally, his paper offers a different prediction as to what would happen post-acquisition. He simply expresses his firm belief that whatever made MySQL successful in the past is not really an indication for the future. In fact he believes MySQL AB had a very suboptimal business model…
If he were right that MySQL AB and all of the companies that succeeded around MySQL didn’t do it right and that a GPL-only approach works best, then actually there would be no point in Sun having acquired MySQL last year nor in Oracle acquiring it now because then the future would at any rate be that someone has to fork it and do a GPL-only project dependent on voluntary contributions. Interestingly, that approach would have been possible during all of those almost 14 years that MySQL has been available and no one, not even Eben Moglen, decided to seize that opportunity.”
Both Moglen and Mueller make strong and weak points.
First, Moglen is too quick to dismiss MySQL as an atypical GPL project. As Mueller points out, whatever you think about MySQL and their business model, you can’t simply conclude that another business model would be more appropriate. Just because Linux is licensed under the GPL and Linux vendors, namely Red Hat and Novell are closing in on a combined $1B in revenue, does not mean the GPL is the best license for every open source product with commercial aspirations. The Linux ecosystem is very different than say, application servers or web content management. Different markets with different ecosystems require different license considerations.
While Moglen appears to be arguing for a “pure GPL” MySQL, departing from the dual-licensed status quo, Groklaw reports that Mueller and Widenius would like to see the MySQL open source license changed from GPLv2 to the Apache Software License. According to Groklaw, page 19 of an unreleased submission to the EU from Mueller/Widenius stated:
“We would like to draw attention to the fact that some major concerns about the effects of the proposed transaction could be somewhat alleviated by requiring that all versions of MySQL source code previously released under the GPLv2 license …must be released under a more liberal open source license that is usable also by the OEM users and would also create an opportunity for other service vendors to compete with offerings comparable to MySQL Enterprise. A good candidate is the Apache Software License (ASL).”
Something doesn’t feel right about Widenius proposing a license that MySQL could have chosen “over the past 14 years”. Clearly MySQL decided against this move as the GPL/dual licensing approach led to a competitive advantage that the ASL v2.0 would not provide MySQL. But I guess that’s why Widenius suggests Oracle should be forced to re-license MySQL under a permissive license such as the ASL v2.0.
We haven’t heard the last from Widenius & Mueller. Enjoy your holiday season ;-)
Follow me on twitter at: SavioRodrigues
PS: I should state: “The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.”