A while ago I had mentioned that the next world war would not be fought over land or resources but rather on the back of legal representation of copyright. Copyright is the underpinning of all economics in the world today. Everything we buy, we sell. Everything that can be traded or bartered is done so on the basis of ownership and copyright.

The internet economy however breaks several rules of that fundamental underpinning. First and foremost is the idea of open source. Essentially products, usually software, which is developed, managed and maintained by the truest form of democratic principles. There is no profit motive involved in the development of such software. These are products that are being demanded by the community and for which there is a dedicated base of ‘manufacturers’ willing to donate their time and effort.

This is philanthropy at its best.

What profit is to be made is normally in the development of value added services (like support) and customizations after the fact. This is a proven model that works if left to run its course. The only downside to some open source products is that eventually they become so big that the resources necessary to manage the base code – the open source part – requires more involvement from corporations rather than individuals.

Here is the rub however . . . .

Corporations are not, by their very nature, democratic organizations. They are dictatorships. They are run by a small board of directors who in principle report to their shareholders. In reality however the dispersed nature of shareholder relations means that controlling interest in most large national and multi-national corporations are held by — you guessed it — other corporations. Ergo the power to influence the direction of the top 5000 corporations in the world are held by a very small and select group of organizations.

Now this should come as no surprise. The financial systems in place actively encourage this type of consolidation. Even if you were to tear the whole thing down and put control back into the hands of individuals, within 50 years we would be back to corporate ownership of the top 5000 organizations. So don’t get me wrong – I’m not trying to argue the whole “New World Order” thing as being some big conspiracy. Its just what happens when the system is set-up the way it is. Get over it.

Not-withstanding, there are some major problems that do need to be addressed that the current financial framework doesn’t have the tools to properly address in an internet based economy.

One of those is the ability of a corporation like Oracle, to come in and buy out an open source product like MySQL and then deliberately start to try to kill off the product. Let me put this in context. This is exactly the same as a dictator sending troops into a neighbouring democratic country with the intent of wiping all traces of that culture off the map. If this were to happen with political entities, the US, UN, EU, NATO and a whole host of other government types would be all over it in a heartbeat.

In 2009, Oracle purchased Sun Microsystems. At the time MySQL alone was valued at over $1B as a product, never mind the hundreds of billions of dollars of ecommerce that depends on MySQL. As Larry Dignan pointed in out in April 2009 however:

Oracle gets to kill MySQL. There’s no way Ellison will let that open source database mess with the margins of his database. MySQL at best will wither from neglect. In any case, MySQL is MyToast. (ref link)

Oracle now seems to be coming through on that promise despite assurances to the contrary to the European Commission to maintain MySQL as noted in the commission’s report dated January 21, 2010. The report noted that:

Given the specificities of the open source software industry, the Commission also took into account Oracle’s public announcement of 14 December 2009 of a series of pledges to customers, users and developers of MySQL concerning issues such as the continued release of future versions of MySQL under the GPL (General Public Licence) open source licence. (ref. link)

The content of that public announcement can be found here (link), the core aspects being:

  1. Continued Availability of Storage Engine APIs.
  2. Non-assertion of copyright for third party applications
  3. Extension of license commitment.
  4. Commitment to enhance MySQL in the future under the GPL.
  5. Oracle support not mandatory.
  6. Increase spending on MySQL research and development.
  7. MySQL Customer Advisory Board.
  8. MySQL Storage Engine Vendor Advisory Board.
  9. MySQL Reference Manual.
  10. Preserve Customer Choice for Support.

It seems however that either Oracle Executives have a short memory or they are counting on everyone else, especially the competition commissions which were required to approve the deal in the first place, to have short memories. While some of the commitments where an immediate benefit to the community, it now appears as if Oracle is back-tracking on a few things which will put at risk hundreds of billions of dollars in internet commerce all of which is built off of a MySQL backbone and not an Oracle backbone.

Let’s put that into perspective: The total GDP of the world in 2012 is currently estimated at $73.7 Trillion dollars (USD). If MySQL only accounts for the backbone of only 1% of that total volume (a number that that may be LOW) then at $737 Billion in annual transactions, the amount of economic activity that relies on MySQL is larger than the national GDP of the over 90% of the world’s economies (only 19 have GPDs larger that what runs on MySQL).

Now — along comes Oracle who now seems bent and determined to eradicate MySQL. Or at least it is on the path towards that outcome. A $157 billion dollar company that is essentially accountable to a handful of meaningful investors. And while technically they are within their rights to do what it is they are doing to eliminate products that cannibalize their core product lines, at what point do we the people get a say in the accountabilities that companies like Oracle have towards the global economy?

Right now the answer is: None.

And there are no mechanisms, political or otherwise to hold companies like this account. Once the competition boards have made their rulings there are generally no teeth left in order to call companies to account if they decided to simply bid their time for 3 years and then do what they wanted to do in the first place.

So – I say to you again. Oracle may be on the road to winning the battle, but as more and more of these types of examples start to pile up, the internet generation is going to find new ways to rage battles that can cut across political boundaries and straight at the heart of those who seek to tear down an individual’s ability to meaningful employment on their own terms without being a slave to the multinational machine.

This is not to say that corporations are evil spawn of the devil that seeks to rule the rest of us through some new world order. It is simply a mathematical outcome of oppressive behaviours that are spurned by an economic system that is slow to move and resistant to change. Like the rock posed on the edge of a precipice however, once it starts to tumble down the other side recognition of the economic obsessive-compulsive coping mechanism that prevent multi-nationals from instituting real change isn’t going to amount to anything more than the rubble at the bottom of the cliff.

 — Kevin Feenan

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