Oracle: Bull in the FOSS China Shop

After all the many open source missteps Oracle has made this fall, one might think the company would be at least starting to get a clue right about now.

We’ve seen the lawsuit against Google; we’ve seen the demise of OpenSolaris. There’s been the emergence of the MySQL fork known as SkySQL; there’s been the ongoing debacle, leading to the creation of LibreOffice.

More recently, we’ve seen the Apache Software Foundation’s resignation from the Java SE/EE Executive Committee and Oracle’s targeting of the Hudson project with more ownership claims.

‘We Own the Trademark’

The Hudson story, in fact, has caused quite a commotion in the Linux blogosphere of late. In a nutshell, Oracle is claiming ownership of Hudson, the software build and monitoring service originally created by Sun.

“Because it is open source, we can’t stop anybody from forking it,” Oracle’ Ted Farrell reportedly wrote on a Hudson email list. “We do however own the trademark to the name, so you cannot use the name outside of the core community. We acquired that as part of Sun.”

No sooner were the Hudson claims reported, however, than suggestions surfaced indicating that the trademark in question might not even exist, adding yet another twist to the whole sordid story.

Is there no end to this monolith’s money-hungry madness? Linux Girl would be reluctant to contribute more proverbial ink to the database giant’s cause were it not all so shocking.

Linux bloggers, as one might suspect, have been wont to agree.

‘Didn’t They Learn Anything?’

“I know that trademark owners have to assert their rights but there is clearly a right and a wrong way to go about it,” wrote Steve Davies 3 in the comments on The Register, for example. “IMHO, this is clearly the wrong way. Didn’t they learn anything from the flak they got over OpenOffice?

“I can only hope that the Hudson community does the same here,” Steve Davies 3 added. “They could call it ‘RiverthatflowsthroughNYC.’ I’m sure something like that would p**s off Oracle nicely but there is nowt they could do about it.”

Similarly: “Poetry! I can see it now, Larry bursting through the door like Jack Nicholson in The Shining,” chimed in Antti Roppola.

“F*** Oracle,” concluded NB. “That will be all.”

‘Much Worse Than Sun Ever Was’

But will it be all we see of Oracle’s open source transgressions? Linux Girl seriously doubts it. To drown her sorrows — and to learn more — she strapped on her snowshoes and headed down to the Linux blogosphere’s cozy new Open Doors Pub.

She didn’t have to wait long for bloggers’ thoughts about all things Oracle.

“Remember when I said that Oracle can’t be worse than Sun when dealing with the FOSS community? I’m forced to admit I was completely wrong,” Montreal consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack fumed over a piping hot toddy. “Oracle seems to think it has the same sort of control over FOSS as it does with its proprietary software, and has actually managed to be much worse than Sun ever was.

“I hope the forks succeed where Oracle has so completely failed,” Mack concluded.

‘Property Is Property’

“Oracle is like a bull in a china shop, not knowing how to get around and breaking things in FLOSS,” blogger Robert Pogson agreed.

“They just don’t seem to get it,” Pogson added. “Perhaps they should be left alone to calm down. It works for small children sometimes.”

Slashdot blogger hairyfeet wasn’t so sure.

“I’m sure I’ll get hate for saying this, but property is property,” hairyfeet asserted. “If someone sold the rights to Burger King, does that give all the franchises the right to do as they will? Nope, because the owners have rights to the trademarks and copyrights.”

‘They Are Welcome to Do a Debian’

It’s the same thing in Oracle’s case, hairyfeet continued.

“Just because something is FOSS does NOT give you the rights to the copyrights or trademarks!” he said. “Look up the GPL — it says you have the right to the source code, that’s it. GPL v3 has some language about trademarks and patents, but RMS went so overboard with his ‘fight the power!’ bit that even Linus won’t license under GPL v3.”

In short, “if they don’t like it thanks to GPL, they are welcome to do a Debian and call it Desoto or Iceriver or something,” hairyfeet concluded.

‘Shakespeare Could Relate’

Perhaps the best summary of the situation, however, came from Barbara Hudson, a blogger on Slashdot who goes by “Tom” on the site.

“Shakespeare could relate to the kind of year Oracle is having,” Hudson suggested:

“Now is the winter of our discontentNo glorious summer for Ellison, poor Larry;And all the clouds that low’r’d upon his houseIn the deep bosom of court filings buried.”


  • Certainly Linus has no love of RMS and GPLv3 but that is not the main reason that Linux has not gone to GPLv3. With thousands of contribution from many years, every part of the globe and hundreds of companies it would take a major effort to legally change the copyright licence of the software. Some contributors are dead and their successors in interest would need to be searched. The likelihood of success is tiny. Why rewrite major parts of Linux just to change the licensing for missing permissions? There is not a sufficient compelling reason to do so at the moment. Linus does not own the copyright on every piece of Linux. It is a cooperative product of the world. Changing to GPLv3 would likely take many years for little benefit. Smaller projects have migrated to GPLv3 with much less effort.

    • The v3 edition of the GPL was aimed at the Microsoft/Novell alliance a few years back and with the demise of Novell, it has become pretty much a non-issue. At the end of the day, there are only a handful of significant open source projects, i.e. the classic LAMP with Firefox and Open Office added. None of these use GPLv3.

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