I was surprised, to say the least, this morning to read Simon Phipps’ tweet that “Richard Stallman and others declare GPL inadequate to protect software freedom.” Lack of caffeine, maybe? Nope. Stallman and Knowledge Ecology International really have sent a letter to the European Commission saying that Oracle shouldn’t be permitted to acquire MySQL in its merger with Sun.
Why? Because Oracle would then be the only party able to release MySQL under licenses that are not the GPL, and because Oracle could prevent MySQL from forking under a license other than GPLv2.
According to the letter, not being able to re-license MySQL under GPLv3 “the lack of a more flexible license for MySQL will present considerable barriers to a new forked development path for MySQL.”
The argument that not being able to license MySQL under GPLv3 being a “considerable barrier” to forked development for MySQL seems a bit suspect to me. Some projects have taken up GPLv3, but I don’t see much evidence that the developer base that could or would continue a forked MySQL is demanding GPLv3. In fact, a MySQL fork is already well underway that doesn’t seem the least bit daunted by the existing license.
Calling GPLv3 a “more flexible” license also seems odd. I don’t know many people outside the FSF that would call GPLv3 “more flexible” than GPLv2. (It certainly doesn’t seem to be the opinion of the Linux kernel community.)
This seems like overreaching. Asking Oracle to abide by the GPL is reasonable. Asking that a governmental body preclude the sale of a company to another because it will cease or curtail its development of a Free Software project seems unreasonable. Oracle’s acquisition of MySQL probably won’t be beneficial to the MySQL community in the short term.
But in the long term, the community can get behind MariaDB, or start a new fork of MySQL because the GPL allows exactly that. If there is sufficient interest (and talent) then the MySQL forks will flourish and all is well.
It does show a weakness in the corporate-sponsored Free Software development model, because the company behind the project can unilaterally direct development of the project. But it’s not up to the government to solve that problem by blocking corporate mergers. It’s up to the community to solve this problem, and some of the community are doing just that. I prefer Monty’s solution to Stallman’s.
(Post that didn’t survive a migration, published in 2009. Re-adding, courtesy of Archive.org.)