MySQL AB to Tweak Open-Source License

By Lisa Vaas  |  Posted 2004-02-19

MySQL AB to Tweak Open-Source License

MySQL ABs open-source database license has long confused ISVs and others who want to support MySQL but arent sure whether they need to purchase a license. To remedy these licensing gray areas, MySQL is beta testing a new VAR program that will be rolled out at its user conference in April, officials said.

The program will allow ISVs to cost-effectively license MySQLs server. MySQL Vice President of Marketing Zack Urlocker told that, eventually, the company is planning to install a driver that moves the burden of compliance onto customers.

As it now stands, the open-source company has a dual license that works on a quid pro quo basis—i.e., if youre free, MySQL is free. If youre closed, you need a license.

For most people, that works just fine, Urlocker said. But for others, its a muddle. "We have 4,000 commercial installations, and those people are clear [on the licensing terms]," he said. "But as we become more popular, there are ISVs that are saying, Hey I want to support MySQL, and were not clear on [how that would work]. We know theres ambiguity in certain areas, like, I want to support MySQL, but I dont want to bundle it. We have some lack of clarity in our licensing."

David Wall, a developer in Kirkland, Wash., recently posed some of the hairy questions to which this lack of clarity has given rise. "In our application, we dont have to distribute any database, operating system, application server, Web server or the like," Wall wrote in an e-mail exchange with "We license our technology, and the customer puts it on their server, with their application server, operating system and database. If they use Oracle, then we just use the Oracle JDBC drivers that came with their deployment of Oracle, and were ready to go. If they use PostgreSQL, then we use that. The same with Microsoft SQL Server. Does this mean if we have a customer who has their own MySQL deployment (lets assume they have not bought a commercial license), that the customer doesnt need to worry?"

Such uncertainty has motivated MySQL to rework the licensing language. After all, nobody wants to alienate ISVs, who could drive considerable business toward MySQL, Urlocker said. "Were happy to address the issue because it means theres interest on the part of ISVs for supporting the software. Thats good," he said.

The unclear language pertains to who exactly has the responsibility to purchase a license in a VAR setup: the VAR, or the end user? The GPL is ambiguous in regards to these matters, Urlocker said, but its simply the best open-source licensing model that now exists.

The VAR program now being tested includes several ISVs as beta testers. With the program, MySQL is testing authenticated client libraries that VARs can include for a nominal charge as part of MySQLs partner program.

The company expects to roll out the program at its user conference, April 14-16, in Orlando, Fla., along with a new MySQL Cluster product.


Urlocker said that he is also working on draft exception text to clarify MySQLs licensing policy. "I have new text from our lawyers and Im working on it to make it more clear (and less lawyerly)," he said in an e-mail exchange. "But the gist of it is that we want to make sure people can use MySQL for a wide range of open-source projects under any number of open-source licenses, some of which are incompatible with the GPL. This has been a source of confusion out there, and we hope to clear it up in the coming weeks."

There are dozens of projects that are incompatible with the GPL license, Urlocker said. For example, the GPL prohibits an "advertising" clause. However, MySQL doesnt mind if someone combines MySQL Client libraries with a license that has such a clause. One exception Urlocker is working on will enable use of MySQL software in such a case.

In the meantime, MySQL is open to input. "Well try to work with people on their issues until we have a program announced," Urlocker said. "Were happy to get feedback and questions from people to make it fair, to make sure theyre not burdened. We think its important that we have this sustainable business model. Having commercial customers is the way we can continue to invest in the community."

Those interested in giving feedback to MySQL can send e-mail to

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