Thanks Oracle for fixing the GPL man page issue

Timing is everything. I wrote about how MySQL man pages were silently relicensed away from the GPL. It was picked up by a lot of sites: Hacker News, Slashdot, LWN, and probably more. That led to a bug report in Debian (#712730) to complain that MySQL is no longer compliant with the Debian Free Software Guidelines (DFSG). That prompted Norvald Ryeng who’s active in Debian (thanks Oracle!) to file MySQL bug #69512. Almost immediately Oracle said it was a bug, where Yngve Svedsen pointed to the buildsystem: “This is indeed a bug, where the build system erroneously and silently started pulling in man pages with the wrong set of copyright headers.” That then prompted Tomas Ulin to write about how The MySQL Man Pages ARE Available under the GPL. Case closed, many on Hacker News attributed it to Hanlon’s razor. Most news sites updated it with the bug, and The H also wrote an article: Oracle bug accidentally removes GPL licence from MySQL man pages.

We learned about this issue from MariaDB Jira and spent some time looking at it. We looked at the MySQL source tarballs, and looked at 5.5.30/5.5.31/5.5.32. This issue is present in a release since 18 April 2013 (5.5.31) and a subsequent release on 3 June 2013 (5.5.32). What is clear is that this also affects 5.1, 5.6, and 5.7. This has been an issue for about two months.

So this issue is written off as a bug. Great. Its fixed because it was noticed. It’s noticed not because it was just reported in the bugs system, but because there was a huge amount of traffic around it. While Tomas might say, “Reporting a bug is always a good way to communicate with us,” I doubt this would have been fixed in record time any other way. Also, I don’t need to rehash all the issues with the public bugs system.

I’m not about to start conspiracy theories here because that isn’t my goal. Our frame of mind since last week’s RHEL Software Collections news has been focused on documentation as well. Sheeri Cabral, an Oracle ACE Director, has had a rather interesting conversation on Twitter about our documentation. man pages aside, we’re improving documentation tremendously, and have over 2,700 articles in the Knowledgebase.

One thing is for sure with Oracle as steward for MySQL: the public perception of Oracle isn’t at its best and generally no one assumed this to be an accident.

Now let’s focus on something celebratory and positive: MySQL (NDB) Cluster 7.3 is now a GA. I’m excited by the node.js connector and the auto-installer. Can’t wait to give it a try. Congratulations all round to the Cluster Team at Oracle.


  1. Kristian Nielsen says:

    If Oracle is really licensing the man pages under the GPL, then where is the source code?

    As I understand, the man pages are generated from some SGML (or whatever) source file that is not published or available.

    So if man pages are GPL, but source code is not released by Oracle/MySQL, then how can anyone legally redistribute said man pages while complying with the GPL’s requirement to provide source code?

    • colincharles says:

      I’m going to try reporting this as a “bug”, as per Tomas Ulin’s request to see if there’s any movement in that regard

    • numpty says:

      Have you asked them for it? They only have to make it available on request to comply with the GPL.