Re: MySQL JDBC driver - implications for non-GPLed apps

From: Chris Smith (
Date: 05/14/04

Date: Fri, 14 May 2004 09:20:37 -0600

[Mark Matthews copied me by mail on this post and the article didn't
seem to reach my news server. So my apologies for kludging the
references headers, but I can't correct them by hand in my newsreader.]

Mark Matthews wrote:
> Just to clear something up...We don't 'lift' code from GPL products.
> We require clear IP to all of the code in our products so that we can
> also license it commercially, so in fact almost all of it is written
> by MySQL employees.

I'm certainly in no position to disagree with you. Perhaps you have a
perfect process of verifying the copyright ownership of anything that
comes your way. It's certainly worth giving the benefit of the doubt.

As you yourself say, though, there's nevertheless a good bit of
development effort being put into supporting MySQL on the assumption
that it's a GPL product. And legally, of course, it is... *if* the
organization using it has the staff lawyers to prove that.

> Considering one of our company values is "Make superior database
> software available to all", and given our actions (because they speak
> louder than words), which include making _every_single_ product we
> have available under the GPL, including technology that was expensive
> to create and/or acquire such as MySQL Cluster, as well has having
> _no_ feature differences between our open source and commercial
> software, I find it hard to paint us with that brush. However, if
> that's how you see us, I'd like to help rectify that image (feel free
> to contact me personally if you want to discuss it further).

I don't see how you'll rectify that image without ceasing the use of
legal threats to prevent people from using code in ways that they are
permitted to use it. I don't care to claim inside knowledge about the
motivations behind your adoption of the GPL as a license for MySQL.
>From my perspective, it appears to be largely for historic and PR
reasons, but I could be wrong. Nor do I care to even speculate on the
wisdom of choosing this license.

Nevertheless, to continue to claim that MySQL is licensed under the GPL
-- while using legal threats to prevent people from exercising the
rights you claim to give them -- is downright deceptive.

> However, what we're really trying to get at with the licensing (and
> still working on getting there, but it takes careful consideration),
> is the notion of 'quid-pro-quo'...i.e. if your application is open
> source, then MySQL is open source (in fact, there's a GPL license
> exception for MySQL software that allows you to use it with
> OSI-certified licenses that are historically incompatible with the
> GPL)...if your application is closed source, then MySQL is closed
> source.

Which is, unfortunately, not what the GPL is about. The GPL is about
preventing *derivative works* from being *distributed* under a closed-
source license.

If you're concerned about people making a profit via the use within a
company of closed-source software with MySQL or even derivative
databases based on the MySQL code; or by writing software that contains
no MySQL code but interacts with MySQL through standard interfaces that
you did not write, or prevents a commercial entity from recommending
that a customer of theirs download and install MySQL for use with a
product, then someone within the MySQL AB is probably capable of writing
a license that expresses this. The MySQL AB has every right to do this
if, as you quite plausibly say, you have clear IP to all the code in

But that won't happen. It won't happen because such a license would not
be the GPL, and because the OSI wouldn't even consider certifying such a
license as an open-source license. Instead, MySQL continues to tell
everyone that the code is licensed under the GPL, and then use legal
threats to ensure that no one exercises those rights when if conflicts
with the profits of the MySQL AB. That's exploiting an economic
advantage, pure and simple.

> That last bit is really not much different than other commercial
> vendors

Exactly. But my claiming that your code is licensed under the GPL,
you're claiming not to be a commercial vendor. That's a lie. The issue
is not whether MySQL should get money for doing work; it's whether MySQL
should lie about the rights they grant to other people, and then
threaten lawsuits against people who try to exercise those rights.

The result is that there is mass confusion, when we have to explain to
customers why despite what they've heard about MySQL being GPL software
just like Linux is, they can use Linux with our commercial product free
of charge but they can't use MySQL in the same way. Basically, it comes
down to "technically, your rights are the same, but Linus Torvalds isn't
threatening frivolous legal action against Linux users".

> MySQL is working on an ISV/VAR option for the client libraries for
> comemrcial licensees, if you have input on how you think this should
> work, please let us know.

I think before you could begin such a task, you'd need to decide whether
MySQL is free software or not, and admit your answer to the world. If
it's not free software, then charging for licenses to *use* MySQL makes
a lot more sense than charging for licenses to write applications that
can use it, especially since 90% or more of database applications
interact through interfaces that are not specific to a given DBMS
vendor, so there's just no sensible definition of when someone has
written an application that might use MySQL (except, perhaps, if they've
included MySQL's non-standard CREATE TABLE syntax to make foreign keys
and transactions work on a table, or avoided SQL subqueries, or coded
around other nuances of the software).

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