Below is a rough draft of the cornerstone slide for a new presentation deck I am putting together to explain the various business strategies for monetizing open source software. The aim is to explain every single existing strategy using the elements on this one slide (although I am yet to test it out).
In our previous discussions about business strategies we have noted that there are four elements that shape a business strategy around open source software: the open source software license; the development strategy; the end user license strategy; and the revenue trigger.
As can be seen from the slide above, I have added a fifth element: copyright control. Copyright was previously considered in our research around business strategies but was seen more as an underlying influence than a distinct strategy element.
I have recently come to the realisation that copyright control is not just a part of each of the four elements, and not just a fifth additional element, but should perhaps be considered the central element which profoundly influences the other four.
Copyright control has a symbiotic relationship with both the open source software license (I’ll leave the copyright/left discussion for another day) and the development strategy, and is influential in determining both the end user license strategy and therefore the choice of revenue trigger.
This has become abundantly clear thanks to the discussion surrounding Oracle’s acquisition of Sun and MySQL.
Back in September I speculated that it was copyright, and not licensing or market share, that was at the centre of the European Commission’s concern about Oracle’s future ownership of MySQL:
“I would argue, that Oracle’s potential control over MySQL is not about licensing, but copyright… copyright ownership does not just impact the ability to license code, it also provides control over potential commercial uses of that code. This is where it could be argued that the EC could be right to have anti-competitive concerns over Oracle’s future ownership of MySQL.”
This week’s comments from EC spokesperson Jonathan Todd confirmed my suspicions:
Todd said Tuesday that Oracle would become the exclusive holder of the copyright and trademark for MySQL code “which means that despite the fact that MySQL is open source, it could be very difficult for a competitor using MySQL code to sufficiently replace the competitive constraint” that MySQL places on database rivals. The commission is concerned that Oracle could refuse to license MySQL to some companies or for some uses in order to favor its own software. “Just because MySQL is open source, does not mean that if you want to apply it in the commercial context, that you can do what you like with it,” Todd said.
Which is not to say that I agree that there is enough competitive threat to block the deal. But it has highlighted the importance of copyright control in terms of business strategies around open source. As John Mark Walker noted recently:
“The remarkable thing about the Oracle – MySQL case is that it forces us to put up or shut up in a realistic, fact-based way not clad in ideological robes. Whatever your opinions, you now have a test case against which to apply them.”