Why “helping MySQL” reflects poorly on us all
As of late Monty with the support of leading FSF figures has started campaigning to “help MySQL” since Oracle surely will mean it harm. Here is why signing such a petition in my personal opinion is a bad idea.
1) The grassroot movement is basically turning into spammers, going to every forum and other venue they can come up with an posting the same copy and pasted message without providing a reasoned argument for their case in such posts. Signing the petition is rewarding this behavior.
2) This is largely about commericalization of MySQL. Namely the right to monitize from relicensing for commercial clients who do not wish their codebase to be infected by the GPL license for one reason or another. This has nothing to do with the software’s freedom status and given the FSF’s behavior as well as argumentation throughout recent years, the entirety of the inherent freedoms remain intact even when forking the existing codebase, meaning that this is entirely about the right to make money from proprietary use cases of the code. Thus the FSF once again shows that they do not have the moral high ground given their abusive and divisive behavior towards more pragmatic community members arguing for such use cases historically (e.g.: the Miguel de Icaza traitor incident).
3) Outside of the right to monitization for proprietary use cases the only thing lost is the right to use the name MySQL. While there is a significant brand behind MySQL this is not a technical argument against the letting Oracle do with their obtained property as they please. MySQL was sold long ago along with the rights to the name and the copyright and such objections should have addressed then instead of assuming that MySQL would always remain in the hands of those we consider friendly. This is more an argument against copyright assignment than anything, if you do not agree with what is happening to MySQL right now, do not agree to contribute to projects that require copyright assignment. Now is not the time to attack a company for utilizing the rights that come with obtaining copyright assigned code and the people to do such campaigning most certainly shouldn’t be the FSF who themselves require copyright assignment.
4) The superior technical solution will eventually unseat MySQL and we already have several forks in progress including Monty’s own MariaDB and Drizzle, their respective developers will have to rewrite the code to clear the copyright ownership and learn from this incident or simply find other ways to pay the bills than selling rights to use the code under a different license than the GPL. Meaning the GPL isn’t a suitable license for such projects especially when combined with copyright assignment. In the grandest of traditions in Open Source this will spur competition and open the market to a compatible but commercially more paletable solution, unseating MySQL from new code (or existing “non-encumbered” code such as PostgresSQL) rather than a fork of MySQL. Futher underlining that this is an argument from people with a vested interest in reverting their own mistakes of the past.
5) While this is not the sole reason for the EU and similar governmental agencies holding back agreeing to Oracle finalizing their purchase of SUN it certainly isn’t helping. While this deal is in limbo, SUN is bleeding money and laying off many fine employees, in the progress directly hurting the Open Source community by removing valued contributors. Consequences for which the FSF nor Monty or any other party involved in this campaign has expressed the slightest remorse or concern. If they want to claim the moral high ground they should at least address this, apologize and amply justify their actions to the people who are left without jobs in an already hard pressed market and economy. I do not believe they are in a position to do so as they themselves are to blame for creating the situation.
In short, my opinion is that supporting this campaign makes the Open Source community look like offended children who would rather take the ball they already gave away and go home than live with their decision. It is our own failing that caused this situation and instead of attacking Oracle over it while people are losing their jobs and the Open Source community loses valued contributors we should review the road that led here and consider adding a freedom from copyright assignment clause to the list of inherent freedoms that needs protecting. Futhermore we should encourage a wide sweeping review of our existing projects and see which are in danger of ending up in the same situation as MySQL. Any action taken to deal with these situations should be above all be calm, polite and non-confrontational. if any projects show as currently being in danger and action might be needed should rational evidence based argumentation fail to work with these projects or they ask us to not argue against their policies, competition should be assumed as the natural outcome.
In the interest of intellectual honesty, the other side of the argument is available here.