Jef Spaleta (jspaleta) wrote,
Jef Spaleta

Can corporations be friendly?

Inside the current crop of blog posts like this one about the MySQL/ Oracle acquisition.. there is insight into a deeper issue which I want to talk about.

What does it mean for a company to be friendly or unfriendly? Can a friendly company make a certain set of licensing choices and be applauded while an unfriendly company makes the exact same licensing choices and is derided? This inconsistency is not rational and we need to understand why some in the community are reacting this way.

I think what's happened in recent times is that as a community we've had a lot of start-up business interests that are in effect cults of personality. One or two dedicated, passionate people building a company around their personal ethos. For these small incubator companies... the founder is the company.. there is not self-organizing corporate culture. The company is thought to be friendly because the founder is thought to be friendly. But its the wrong way to view a corporation. Corporations aren't people. Corporations are for all intent and the human condition.

The cult of personality model only really holds for very small companies...where the original founder is still in place. It does not hold for companies that outlive their original leader. At some point companies develop their own corporate culture..which is an amalgamation of choices being made by multiple people..and not just the founder. At some point companies stop being cults of personality and take on a life of their own. And in this sense I think Red Hat and Mozilla stand apart. They've made the leap into self-motivated corporate organism and have retained an open development friendly business culture.. and they've taken vastly different paths to get there. But as business cultures aren't static, in time unfriendly cultures can turn friendly and vice versa...because they are an amalgamation of choices. We have to do our part to lift up the good decisions inside a corporate entity that are being made while at the same time punching them in the head for making bad choices. We can not paint large corporate entities broadly as friendly or unfriendly...Intel and Google I'm looking at you.

The MySQL situation is a cautionary tale for every single open-core start-up in existence right now. Every single company which requires copyright assignment from contributors and is making a business off of owning the copyrights by holding a privileged position that allows them to license the code under both proprietary and open licenses. The people who are upset with the MySQL/Oracle situation should be looking to the future at what's going to happen to all the start-ups out there who are following MySQL's licensing model. What if Alfreso is acquired? What if Canonical is acquired? Are we going to go through the same sort of debate every time an acquisition that involves privileged dual-licensing happens? Why exactly as a community are we cool with signing over copyright rights to small corporate entities.. when we know that if they are successful, acquisition by a larger corporate entity is a probable outcome? If we don't want to give Oracle or other large "unfriendly" licensing control over a codebase why the hell are we signing over copyrights over to small companies like MySQL? Anyone who thinks Oracle's sole control over the MySQL codebase is a problem should have foreseen this and spoken out against the open-core licensing model when MySQL adopted it as a business strategy. Whose going to start demanding Alfresco stop requiring copyright assignment now?


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