MySQL Documentation Licensing Woes

Apr 29, 2009 / By Sheeri Cabral

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By now many folks know that MySQL documentation is not changing its license. This is an issue with many sides, but before I go through them, I want to address a comment made by Masood Mortazavi:

People who are interested in forking the server — and potentially interested in creating what is in effect separate communities of their own — should probably develop their own docs for their own forks.

(There is a cost involved here, I know. However, it should be a cost worth paying if developers of forks really believe in their work. MySQL AB certainly paid that cost in developing the docs while it had already made the code itself freely available under GPL. So, the playing ground among all forks, etc., and including MySQL itself, is actually quite level.)

MySQL AB paid the cost in developing the *software* as well. Why is it that the cost of writing documentation from scratch is acceptable, but the cost of writing the *software* from scratch isn’t?

I totally understand the concern that if people have the same rights to fork the documentation as they do to fork the code, confusion may arise. Many do not agree that the risk is high enough to warrant keeping the documentation “closed”. However, even if that is the case, Section 2 of GPLv2 states:

You may modify your copy or copies of the Program or any portion of it, thus forming a work based on the Program, and copy and
distribute such modifications or work under the terms of Section 1
above, provided that you also meet all of these conditions:

a) You must cause the modified files to carry prominent notices
stating that you changed the files and the date of any change.

So, if Sun/MySQL[/Oracle/whatever] was *really* worried about confusion, they would publish the documentation with a GPLv2 license, and then have their legal department send cease and desist letters to anyone who modified the documentation without having a prominent notice stating that they have modified the documentation.

My question to readers is: “If the Oracle Corporation decided to close the source of MySQL, would anyone notice?”

Your first thought may be, “I was *just* reading a blog post that talked about more community contributions being accepted!” However, if you actually search around for the details of the community contributions, you will note that, as in the past, it is still taking a lot of time to QA the contributions, and even once contributions are accepted, they are not put in a release we will see any time soon. For an example, see my comment to that post, where I link to documents showing that the only piece of community code that was specific enough to find will be put into MySQL version 7.1.

Hopefully, as announced at the Partner Meeting at the recent MySQL User Conference, the roadmap won’t be frozen as it is now, and features can get into a release if they are complete (including testing and QA) within a certain timeframe.

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