Friday, October 30, 2009

Exposed, the GPL's fatal flaw

Thanks to a tweet from @wrowe I read this post and this open letter fromRichard Stallman to the European Commission opposing Oracle's acquisition of MySQL (via their acquisition of SUN).

The thrust of the argument is that MySQL is currently licensed under the GPL.
The GPL denies anyone apart from the rights holder the right to sell the product or a derivative of it.
Therefore if Oracle become the rights holder they have an exclusive right to sell the product.
They are, for the same reason, under no obligation to feed their changes back into the open source code base, and have no commercial incentive to do so.
Likewise the opposite is true, Oracle's competitors will gain no commercial advantage from taking a fork of the GLP'ed code and developing it, because the GPL forbids anyone from selling that derivative or from distributing closed-source enhancements.

On the other hand the Apache License [sic], does allow companies and individuals to redistribute for profit, and to redistribute closed source product based on the open source code.

It would seem, then, that had MySQL been licensed under the Apache License Oracle's competitors (whoever they may turn out to be) could have competed from an equal position, by taking a fork of MySQL and developing it, or developing new products derived from it.

This is an approach taken by may, and these days, most of us will benefit in some way or other from products which have benignly licensed components within them.

Could this, then, be the long awaited moment when the aggressive social evangelism encapsulated in the GPL tests capitalism in the ultimate showdown?

I think that a lot of people have been waiting for that, but sadly for them it looks like their champion has taken a fatal hit in its Achilles heel.


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