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What about Woman’s Hour? Free speech, free markets and the future of MySQLMatthew Aslett, October 21, 2009 @ 2:48 am ET
A controversial issue in the UK this week is the BBC’s decision to invite the British National Party – the far-right, whites-only political party – to appear on Question Time, the BBC’s flagship political debate programme.
Critics fear that the move will legitimise the BNP’s far-right views, while the BBC has defended the invitation on the grounds that its role as a politically neutral public service broadcaster would be undermined if it excluded the BNP – which won its first European Parliament seats this year with an estimated million votes.
To me it is clear that no matter how abhorrent the BNP’s policies on certain issues may be the BBC has a duty to invite it to participate as it is a legitimately recognised political party. We live in a society that protects and promotes free speech with the only limit being when the speech in question goes beyond what is deemed to be legally acceptable.
Many would argue that the BNP’s policies have already overstepped that mark, and I personally have a lot of sympathy for that view, but the illogical nature of the argument against the BNP appearing on Question Time is that campaigners are not seeking to prevent the BNP appearing on the BBC at all, but only from appearing on Question Time.
MP for Neath Peter Hain has stated that the BBC’s “obligation to respect the right of a minority who have voted for the BNP… is already adequately upheld in BNP party election broadcasts, and when they are interviewed on political programmes such as Today or Newsnight.”
On Monday night Hain appeared on Newsnight (UK residents only) to attempt to explain to an incredulous Jeremy Paxman why it was okay for the BNP to appear on some BBC programmes but not others, prompting Paxman to ask facetiously; “what about Woman’s Hour?”
I was reminded of this discussion while reading the open letter to the European Competition Commission by Richard Stallman, Knowledge Ecology International (KEI) and the Open Rights Group arguing that the EC should block Oracle’s acquisition of MySQL via Sun. It followed shortly behind the press release sent out by Monty Widenius which explained why he believes Oracle should sell off MySQL to ensure that it is in a position to acquire Sun.
The overall tone of both documents imply that it would be okay for some vendors to acquire MySQL but not others, and that Oracle is not a suitable candidate. The Stallman/KEI/ORG letter explicitly states: “MySQL was acquired by Sun in February 2008, in a transaction welcomed by many users because of Sun’s good reputation among advocates of FLOSS software, and a belief that Sun would position MySQL as a strong competitor.”
Meanwhile Monty Widenius’ press release states: “Oracle should resolve antitrust concerns over its US$7.4 billion acquisition of Sun by committing to sell MySQL to a suitable third party.”
So it was okay for MySQL to be acquired by Sun and it would be okay for MySQL to be acquired by a “suitable third party” but it is not okay for MySQL to be acquired by Oracle.
The “What about Women’s Hour?” response to this letter is “What about IBM?” Would Big Blue be considered friendly enough to FOSS to be allowed to acquire Sun and MySQL had it gone ahead with its plans? What about SAP? Or EMC? Or HP? While we’re asking questions, where were these campaigners when Yahoo was buying Zimbra? Or Citrix was buying XenSource? Or VMware was buying SpringSource?
The answer, of course, is that those acquisitions were not seen to be potentially anti-competitive. We live in a society that protects and promotes free markets with the only limit being when the impact on competition goes beyond what is deemed to be legally acceptable.
It would be understandable if the complaints focused on the negative impact on competition. However, the Stallman/KEI/ORG letter only mentions competitiveness in passing, and Monty Widenius’s press release doesn’t refer to it at all.
Instead they have resorted to spreading what can only be described as fear, uncertainty and doubt.
“If Oracle is allowed to acquire MySQL, it will predictably limit the development of the functionality and performance of the MySQL software platform,” begins the Stallman/KEI/ORG letter.
Florian Mueller, quoted in Monty Widenius’s press release, took things a step further: “every day that passes without Oracle excluding MySQL from the deal is further evidence that Oracle just wants to get rid of its open source challenger.”
It is a claim that borders on the absurd. Could it not be that every day that passes without Oracle excluding MySQL from the deal is further evidence that Oracle just wants to keep MySQL and use it to its advantage? Not least since Larry Ellison said Oracle has no intention of spinning off MySQL and further promised that MySQL will receive more money for research and development.
The Stallman/KEI/ORG letter further describes Ellison’s statement that MySQL does not compete directly with the Oracle Database as “outlandish” despite the fact that it reinforces the competitive history of MySQL, as confirmed recently by former MySQL CEO Marten Mickos.
The only possible argument in favour of the EC blocking Oracle’s acquisition of MySQL is that it is damaging to competition, not that it is damaging to MySQL itself. Otherwise we are asking the EC to rule on whether Oracle is open source-friendly enough to own MySQL, and that is neither something that an organisation like the EC is equipped to answer nor something that it should be asked to decide.
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