I posted suggesting that substantial elements of the MySQL community should throw their weight behind MySQL forks. Mike Olson of Cloudera helpfully pointed out, on Twitter and by email, how the GPL could appear to stand in the way of such an effort. But would it really?
Currently, any version of the MySQL code that isn’t proprietary to the MySQL company — which is owned by Sun and hence expected to be owned soon by Oracle — is covered by GPL 2. That license states (emphasis mine):
Activities other than copying, distribution and modification are not covered by this License; they are outside its scope. The act of running the Program is not restricted,
Hence it is hard for me to see how the MySQL company could in any way hinder another software vendor from saying “Please buy my software, then go download a free copy of GPLed MySQL and run the two together.”*
*Of course, saying that might be more awkward for an appliance vendor such as Kickfire than for a software-only company such as Infobright, but I’m not prepared to address that nuance yet.
Admittedly, what I’m proposing is not the business model for MySQL storage engine vendors such as Infobright today. They ship software that includes MySQL, and incidentally co-market with MySQL, and all that might indeed depend on cooperation with the MySQL company. But in principle, I’m not aware of any reason a software vendor or consortium of software vendors couldn’t support a project to modify a forked version of MySQL as they deem appropriate, GPL that, and then sell their own proprietary software to interact with it.
It is widely believed that Richard Stallman et al. are correct when they claim that anything which links with a GPLed program must be GPLed itself, special license arrangements perhaps excepted. (At least, that’s consensus for static linking; the case of dynamic linking is more controversial.) But while this might be true in many scenarios, I don’t see how the extreme form of the claim makes sense. In the case I posited, neither the vendor nor the user would be doing anything other than what the GPL expressly allows.