Software Group Disputes E.U. Concerns About Oracle-Sun Deal


The founder of the Software Freedom Law Center sent a letter to the European Union regulators looking at Oracle's proposed acquisition of Sun Microsystems arguing that EU concerns about the viability of the MySQL database under Oracle are misguided.

Eben Moglen, a Columbia University Law School professor and founding director of the Software Freedom Law Center, on Friday said the non-profit organization last month sent a letter outlining its "independent opinion" to the EU.

The EC recently issued a formal "statement of objections" to Oracle's planned $7.4 billion acquisition of Sun because of issues related to how Oracle will handle Sun's open source MySQL database software. MySQL competes with Oracle's core database offering, leading to concerns that Oracle will shut down MySQL.

The acquisition, to which Sun's shareholders and the U.S. government have signed off on, has been on hold since the EC in early September originally raised serious doubts about the acquisition and set a deadline of early January for a ruling in the case.

In the letter, which can be read by clicking here, Moglen outlined how the GNU General Public License (GPL) for distributing derivatives of open source software such as the MySQL database protect such software even if a particular derivative is controlled by a vendor such as Oracle.

Moglen wrote in his letter that the EU, in its Statement of Objections, expressed concern that Oracle could use its power of centralized copyright ownership in the current MySQL code to go around the competitive constraints of the GPL "in ways that could not be timely or sufficiently resisted by free software developers working under the terms of GPLv2."

However, Moglen argued, the terms of the GPLv2 and GPLv3 have proved robust for over 20 years despite the efforts of vendors of competitive products to find chinks in the licenses' armor. In fact, he wrote, companies like IBM and Hewlett-Packard have come to accept the value of working with open source software.

Moglen also showed that past cases of contention between open source data base developers and MySQL has showed the strength of the GPL.

He also wrote that it is in Oracle's best interest to ensure that MySQL remains a viable product given Oracle's competitive focus on Microsoft.

Moglen wrote that, regardless of whether or not MySQL is a significant competitive constraint on the Oracle 11 database, MySQL is a potentially lethal competitor for Microsoft's SQL Server database.

For Sun and Oracle, "the rather scant dual-license revenue available from MySQL, or the long-term negative consequences from competition between MySQL and the top-drawer product line, must be significantly outweighed by the value of GPL'd MySQL, available at near-zero price, as a formidable competitor against Microsoft's only database offering," he wrote.

Moglen also argued that, were Oracle to indeed abandon MySQL, it could not force users to move to Oracle's database application. "Given the free software nature of MySQL, the result of such a step by Oracle would effectively be to make a very expensive present to HP, IBM, and any other companies who wanted to make marginal investments in ensuring the longevity of this 'competitive constraint' on Oracle," he wrote.

He also cited the case of the now-popular Firefox browser, which was originally named Phoenix and then Firebird before it was forced to change names, as a case against suggestions that Oracle might try to lessen the strength of MySQL by changing its name.

Moglen, in his letter, noted that the Software Freedom Law Center does receive funding from Oracle, as it does from other companies which may prefer the acquisition of Sun does not close. The Center also receives financial support from Monty Widenius, a co-founder of MySQL who argues that Oracle should divest itself of MySQL if the Sun acquisition closes.