I want to emphasize this for those who have not spent time near trademarks: trademarks are trouble and another one of those things where no matter what, the lawyers always win. If you are starting a company or an open source project, you are going to have to spend a whole bunch of time with lawyers on trademarks or you are going to get properly, properly screwed.
MySQL AB always held the trademark for MySQL. There’s this strange thing with trademarks and free software, where while you can easily say “use and modify this code however you want” and retain copyright on it (for, say, selling your own version of it), this does not translate too well to trademarks as there’s a whole “if you don’t defend it, you lose it” thing.
The law, is, in effect, telling you that at some point you have to be an arsehole to not lose your trademark. (You can be various degrees of arsehole about it when you have to, and whenever you do, you should assume that people are acting in good faith and just have not spent the last 40,000 years of their life talking to trademark lawyers like you have).Basically, you get to spend time telling people that they have to rename their product from “MySQL Headbut” to “Headbut for MySQL” and that this is, in fact, a really important difference.
You also, at some point, get to spend a lot of time talking about when the modifications made by a Linux distribution to package your software constitute sufficient changes that it shouldn’t be using your trademark (basically so that you’re never stuck if some arse comes along, forks it, makes it awful and keeps using your name, to the detriment of your project and business).
If you’re wondering why Firefox isn’t called Firefox in Debian, you can read the Mozilla trademark policy and probably some giant thread on debian-legal I won’t point to.
Of course, there’s ‘ MySQL trademark policy and when I was at Percona, I spent some non-trivial amount of time attempting to ensure we had a trademark policy that would work from a legal angle, a corporate angle, and a get-our-software-into-linux-distros-happily angle.
So, back in 2010, Monty started talking about a draft MariaDB trademark policy (see also, Ubuntu trademark policy, WordPress trademark policy). If you are aiming to create a development community around an open source project, this is something you need to get right. There is a big difference between contributing to a corporate open source product and an open source project – both for individuals and corporations. If you are going to spend some of your spare time contributing to something, the motivation goes down when somebody else is going to directly profit off it (corporate project) versus a community of contributors and companies who will all profit off it (open source project). The most successful hybrid of these two is likely Ubuntu, and I am struggling to think of another (maybe Fedora?).
Linux is an open source project, RedHat Enterprise Linux is an open source product and in case it wasn’t obvious when OpenSolaris was no longer Open, OpenSolaris was an open source product (and some open source projects have sprung up around the code base, which is great to see!). When a corporation controls the destiny of the name and the entire source code and project infrastructure – it’s a product of that corporation, it’s not a community around a project.
From the start, it seemed that one of the purposes of MariaDB was to create a developer community around a database server that was compatible with MySQL, and eventually, to replace it. MySQL AB was not very good at having an external developer community, it was very much an open source product and not a an open source project (one of the downsides to hiring just about anyone who ever submitted a patch). Things struggled further at Sun and (I think) have actually gotten better for MySQL at Oracle – not perfect, I could pick holes in it all day if I wanted, but certainly better.
When we were doing Drizzle, we were really careful about making sure there was a development community. Ultimately, with Drizzle we made a different fatal error, and one that we knew had happened to another open source project and nearly killed it: all the key developers went to work for a single company. Looking back, this is easily my biggest professional regret and one day I’ll talk about it more.
Brian Aker observed (way back in 2010) that MariaDB was, essentially, just Monty Program. In 2013, I did my own analysis on the source tree of MariaDB 5.5.31 and MariaDB 10.0.3-ish to see if indeed there was a development community (tl;dr; there wasn’t, and I had the numbers to prove it).If you look back at the idea of the Open Database Alliance and the MariaDB Foundation, actually, I’m just going to quote Henrik here from his blog post about leaving MariaDB/Monty Program:
When I joined the company over a year ago I was immediately involved in drafting a project plan for the Open Database Alliance and its relation to MariaDB. We wanted to imitate the model of the Linux Foundation and Linux project, where the MariaDB project would be hosted by a non-profit organization where multiple vendors would collaborate and contribute. We wanted MariaDB to be a true community project, like most successful open source projects are – such as all other parts of the LAMP stack.
The reality today, confirmed to me during last week, is that:
Those in charge at Monty Program have decided to keep ownership of the MariaDB trademark, logo and mariadb.org domain, since this will make the company more valuable to investors and eventually to potential buyers.
Now, with Monty Program being sold to/merged into (I’m really not sure) SkySQL, it was SkySQL who had those things. So instead of having Monty Program being (at least in theory) one of the companies working on MariaDB and following the Hacker Business Model, you now have a single corporation with all the developers, all of the trademarks, that is, essentially a startup with VC looking to be valuable to potential buyers (whatever their motives).
Again, I’m going to just quote Henrik on the us-vs-them on community here:
Some may already have observed that the 5.2 release was not announced at all on mariadb.org, rather on the Monty Program blog. It is even intact with the “us vs them” attitude also MySQL AB had of its community, where the company is one entity and “outside community contributors” is another. This is repeated in other communication, such as the recent Recently in MariaDB newsletter.
This was, again, back in 2010.
More recently, Jeremy Cole, someone who has pumped a fair bit of personal and professional effort into MySQL and MariaDB over the past (many) years, asked what seemed to be a really simple question on the maria-discuss mailing list. Basically, “What’s going on with the MariaDB trademark? Isn’t this something that should be under the MariaDB foundation?”
The subsequent email thread was as confusing as ever and should be held up as a perfect example about what not to do. Some of us had by now, for years, smelt something fishy going on around the talk of a community project versus the reality. At the time (October 2013), Rasmus Johansson (VP of Engineering at SkySQL and Board Member of MariaDB foundation) said this:
The MariaDB Foundation and SkySQL are currently working on the trademark issue to come up with a solution on what rights to the trademark each entity should have. Expect to hear more about this in a fairly near future.
MariaDB has from its beginning been a very community friendly project and much of the success of MariaDB relies in that fact. SkySQL of course respects that.
(and at the same time, there were pages that were “Copyright MariaDB” which, as it was pointed out, was not an actual entity… so somebody just wasn’t paying attention). Also, just to make things even less clear about where SkySQL the corporation, Monty Program the corporation and the MariaDB Foundation all fit together, Mark Callaghan noticed this text up on mariadb.com:
The MariaDB Foundation also holds the trademark of the MariaDB server and owns mariadb.org. This ensures that the official MariaDB development tree<https://code.launchpad.net/maria> will always be open for the MariaDB developer community.
So…. there’s no actual clarity here. I can imagine attempting to get involved with MariaDB inside a corporation and spending literally weeks talking to a legal department – which thrills significantly less than standing in lines at security in an airport does.
So, if you started off as yay! MariaDB is going to be a developer community around an open source project that’s all about participation, you may have even gotten code into MariaDB at various times… and then started to notice a bit of a shift… there may have been some intent to make that happen, to correct what some saw as some of the failings of MySQL, but the reality has shown something different.
Most recently, SkySQL has renamed themselves to MariaDB. Good luck to anyone who isn’t directly involved with the legal processes around all this differentiating between MariaDB the project, MariaDB Foundation and MariaDB the company and who owns what. Urgh. This is, in no way, like the Linux Foundation and Linux.
Personally, I prefer to spend my personal time contributing to open source projects rather than products. I have spent the vast majority of my professional life closer to the corporate side of open source, some of which you could better describe as closer to the open source product end of the spectrum. I think it is completely and totally valid to produce an open source product. Making successful companies, products and a butt-ton of money from open source software is an absolutely awesome thing to do and I, personally, have benefited greatly from it.
MariaDB is a corporate open source product. It is no different to Oracle MySQL in that way. Oracle has been up front and honest about it the entire time MySQL has been part of Oracle, everybody knew where they stood (even if you sometimes didn’t like it). The whole MariaDB/Monty Program/SkySQL/MariaDB Foundation/Open Database Alliance/MariaDB Corporation thing has left me with a really bitter taste in my mouth – where the opportunity to create a foundation around a true community project with successful business based on it has been completely squandered and mismanaged.
I’d much rather deal with those who are honest and true about their intentions than those who aren’t.
My guess is that this factored heavily into Henrik’s decision to leave in 2010 and (more recently) Simon Phipps’s decision to leave in August of this year. These are two people who I both highly respect, never have enough time to hang out with and I would completely trust to do the right thing and be honest when running anything in relation to free and open source software.
Maybe WebScaleSQL will succeed here – it’s a community with a purpose and several corporate contributors. A branch rather than a fork may be the best way to do this (Percona is rather successful with their branch too).