A blog for the enterprise open source community
New GPL suits and an open source imbalanceJay Lyman, December 16, 2009 @ 4:41 pm ET
A new round of GPL-based BusyBox suits has been filed, targeting big names in electronics and IT. We’ve long covered these series of GPL-based suits and settlements, but this latest round comes at an interesting time for open source software and its licensing.
First, we have the backdrop of the Oracle-Sun-MySQL acquisition, with opponents arguing to the world and the European Commission, which is reviewing the proposed merger before approving it, in part that the GPL is, ironically, granting too much power to its user, in this case Oracle. I’ve been quoted in the press and honestly agree with Eben Moglen that we the industry, as well as oversight organizations, should trust in the GPL and open source software. It seems to have worked sufficiently to encourage, rather than discourage, competition in the past, so it is logical to assume this will continue, particularly given the commitments and scrutiny thus far. I would also point out that Oracle is going much further in outlining its plans and commitment to MySQL than Sun Microsystems ever had to when it acquired the open source database company and code.
Back to the GPL suits, these represent the ongoing effort of the SFLC to highlight both the workings and legitimacy of open source software licenses. Given the settlements so far and the relatively reasonable tone and approach of the SFLC, I would say these efforts are effectively raising awareness. Furthermore, given incidents such as Microsoft’s recent GPL gaffe, it seems clear that open source license violations are likely widespread, whether they are intentional or not.
Our recent survey of open source software customers and users also reinforces a lack of awareness, given that more than 57% of respondents track open source in development projects, but fewer than 32% have guidelines or policies for contributing to open source. Our survey indicates that while cost is important and serves as a primary driver of open source adoption and open source is delivering cost savings more than 87% of the time, far fewer open source users are truly focused on giving back. Nevertheless, the 31.8% of users that did have guidelines or policy for contributing to open source amounts to nearly one-third of our 1,700 respondents, and this could easily be viewed as a glass half-full scenario for open source supporters.
The GPL BusyBox suits, however, have also served to create some skepticism and scorn for those who are bringing suit. Part of this is based on the idea that backers of openness and transparency aren’t entirely comfortable with the unspecified monetary payments included in previous settlements. Now even some BusyBox developers are questioning the moves.
This again highlights the difficult balance in free and open source software between the philosophy and business aspects of open source, both of which can be integral and symbiotic to the other, but both of which remain a dichotomy as well.
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