An Expert’s Guide to Crock-ery

LewisC proclaims himself to be “an expert”, but in what it’s a tad difficult to know. It’s certainly not in being able to read software licenses, as I had occasion to point out in these pages not so long ago.

My final comments on that thread were, unfortunately, censored: it’s apparently OK for Lewis to tell me that my factual critique of his nonsense is nothing but “smarmy crock” and that I should “go crawl back under your rock”, but not OK for me to make a factual rebuttal of Lewis’ claim that, in the end, I agree with him on the licensing issue. So I’ll take this opportunity to re-state the gist of what would have been my final post:

His statement that “you end up agreeing with me anyway” is mere wishful thinking on his part. He posted originally that you needed to pay for Oracle the minute more than one person made use of the OTN-downloaded database. You don’t.

He posted originally that you needed to pay for Oracle the minute you wanted to develop in a RAC or Dataguard environment. You don’t.

Every substantive point Lewis made in his original blog piece about the OTN license and its applicability I disagree with. I can understand his wanting to extricate himself from this mess of his own creation; but trying to do so by asserting agreement between us on matters about which we have diametrically opposite opinions is, frankly, ridiculous.

Short story, therefore: Lewis was wrong about the OTN License. He remains wrong. He owes people a withdrawal of and considered apology for his comments about it. But instead, he merely attacks the only person who bothered to point out his errors in entirely factual terms.

Meanwhile, I see someone called Alex Andrews has contributed to that thread yet more muck and murk, claiming that “the key licensing term for Oracle products is the following statement; “Other Upon 45 days written notice Oracle may audit the use of the program.” He concludes from this that “unless you noted the date that you downloaded the product and saved a copy of the license agreement, your compliance [is] in doubt.”

This is not the case, of course, since that statement about ‘45 days notice’ doesn’t appear once in the OTN License that is actually the topic under discussion …though, somewhat predictably, the Great Expert Lewis fails to mention this not-so minor point in his reply. All the OTN License says is, “We may audit your use of the programs”, with not a time-scale or a costs-component clause in sight. Alex’s point may well apply to full-blown Oracle licensing issues, in which case fair enough. But it’s got sod-all to do with the free OTN License that Lewis got all worked up about and decided to scare everyone else about as a result. Unfortunately, this tendency to swirl all sorts of non-relevant issues into the mix at the drop of a hat is all-too-common in “discussions” about the OTN license in particular and software licenses generally.

Incidentally, I thought Tod Tomlinson’s contribution to that thread some of the most cogent I’ve seen about the issue: “sales reps are hungry for new license opportunities and if you have a rep who is smart enough to put 2+2 together to see that helping you prove your environment will result in new license revenue for them – they’ll likely step up and help you succeed“. Or, as I would have put it, the OTN License is there to encourage you to use Oracle products and come up with applications and environments which will make use, eventually, of paid-for licenses. The sensible thing to do, therefore, is to read the OTN License in that light: permissive, liberal, encouraging. Scare stories about how trivial it is to inadvertently step outside its bounds and into paid-for territory miss that point by a wild mile.

I conclude from this latest licensing storm in a tea-cup merely that (1) there’s one born every minute; (2) anyone proclaiming themselves an expert is probably not; (3) providing you’re being honest about it, your usage of the OTN license is almost certainly just fine.

The sky is falling…

I wish people wouldn’t get so worked up about software licenses.

They’re rational documents (normally) that seek to protect the software developer’s intellectual property rights and which can be understood by most people that can think logically and calmly.They thus tend not to be evil, cynical ways of screwing a user for fees, nor unintelligible nonsense designed to make you buy things.

A year ago, we had a scare that the OTN license couldn’t be used by developers for free or for learning purposes.

I argued strongly at the time that the particular reading of the license that gave rise to that interpretation was, er… seriously wrong. In fact, I thought it perverse, since OTN is explicitly a forum for self-learners and developers, and for an OTN license to exclude both constituencies would be mighty peculiar.

Happily, OTN seemed to agree with me on the matter, because they ended up adding an explicit statement right at the top of this page to clarify the self-learning and development issues: both are fine.

Well, a year on, and a new scare arises. LewisC posts that “We run RAC… Do we need to purchase a license to develop and test in this environment?” He goes on to conclude, “That is pretty clear. [The OTN download is] Limited to one person and to one server”… and thus cannot be used by a developer team (>1 person) or to develop RAC applications (>1 server).

To reinforce his point, LewisC appeals to an unnamed “friend” for advice on the matter, and this friend refers him “to another license explanation document”… and this “document” turns out to be a PDF which very clearly states (in its footer) “[This document] may not be incorporated into any contract and does not constitute a contract or a commitment to any specific terms.” So, to seek clarification on what a license means, LewisC is pointed to a document that is definitely not part of the contract and which is therefore entirely nugatory.

I despair at this flaccid line of thinking.

If you want to know what a license means, read the license, not some other document that explicitly states it’s of no legal effect, and which isn’t part of the legal agreement you enter into when downloading OTN software, anyway.

And if you do that; if you simply stick to reading what’s in the document that actually governs the contractual relationship between you and Oracle when using OTN-sourced software, here’s what you will find.

First, the license is granted to “you”, and the license explicitly defines “you” as being either an individual or an entity. And an entity (such as a development team or an IT department) can consist of more than 1 person.

Now Gary Myers, in comments attached to LewisC’s article, points out the OTN license says the software is licensed only to “one person”. And so it does (and I missed that first time round). But it turns out the phrase “one person” is irrelevant. Again, read the actual license document. Does it define what “person” means? No it doesn’t. Therefore the word must be assigned the meaning a regular dictionary or legal or conventional usage would assign it. And the dictionary is pretty explicit about it:

Law. a human being (natural person) or a group of human beings, a corporation, a partnership, an estate, or other legal entity (artificial person or juristic person) recognized by law as having rights and duties.

“A group of human beings”. More than one person. Case closed, yer’onor.

Now to the ‘more than one server’. The license is again explicit: “The programs may be installed on one computer only”. However, the license doesn’t define what “computer” means, so it might be possible to argue that a ‘cluster’ is a computer for the purposes of the license: a computational ‘entity’ in the singular, happening to be comprised of multiple individual servers. But it in fact isn’t necessary to resort to such linguistic twists to deal with the issue.

The OTN license has to be agreed to each time you download the Oracle software. That’s one license per download, then. And if you need to run Oracle on more than one computer, you simply have to obtain more than one license… which means, you simply have to download the software more than once. Problem solved.

To answer LewisC’s original question (”Does Oracle Require a License For a Development Database?”), the answer is “of course… and it’s the OTN one, available for free, usable by more than one person, and in a RAC or Data Guard environment provided each install is performed using freshly-downloaded software”. (Slight update: these days, you only install RAC onto the first node of a cluster, and Oracle itself pushes a copy of the relevant binaries onto other nodes of the cluster -so I don’t think the ‘multiple downloads’ thing applies anyway. You download once, you install once, and the software operates to hook in other nodes as required. One install, one license… no matter how many nodes you have).

And that answer is not difficult to arrive at, if you just stick to reading the legal document you agree to when downloading the software and read it rationally and logically. Start appealing to anonymous friends or secondary (and irrelevant) documents, however, and I accept that you’ll have difficulty coming to obvious conclusions. But they remain obvious nonetheless.

Besides, if you have any experience of the range of software licenses out there, you’ll recognise the OTN for what it is: intended only to stop commercial exploitation of a free, giveaway copy of Oracle’s software. The fact that so many key words (like ‘computer’ and ‘person’) are NOT explicitly defined gives the game away: a legal document that sought to screw things down water-tight and unarguably would not let such critical terms through without careful definition. So this legal document is seeking only to establish broad limits and general red lines, not to prescribe particular behaviours with precision. Read in that light, I come back to what I was writing a year ago: please, people, stop being so paranoid and panicky! Oracle is not “out to getchya!’ and the OTN license is loosely drawn up, presumably deliberately (their lawyers know how to draft precisely when occasion calls for it), precisely so that it seeks to do only one thing unambiguously: prohibit commerical use of the software. So long as you don’t try doing that, the OTN license doesn’t get too picky about what you get up to.

No doubt Oracle will have to add yet another ‘clarification’ to their OTN page making it explicit that RAC and Data Guard are covered, but if they don’t, it will only be because they can’t be bothered modifying their web pages every time someone who doesn’t grasp the legal fundamentals over-reacts.

Now, all of the above is indeed just my interpretation of the license, and therefore it’s subject to no more certainty than someone else’s interpretation of it. Only courts of law decide on whose interpretation is the correct one, after all. But this interpretation is, at least, based on a plain reading of the words actually used in the legal document under discussion, and hasn’t had to resort to secondary documents or anonymous friends to form or shape it. Neither is it coloured by the cynicism or plain ignorance that seems to inform a number of the comments found attached to LewisC’s original piece.

Relax, people. The sky’s not falling in, and the OTN license is fine, just so long as you don’t make any money from it.