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Campaign for Clear Licensing gives a voice to end users

Interview CEO Mark Flynn on standing up for the little guy
Mon Aug 11 2014, 14:40

Mark FlynnWHILE THE BIG SOFTWARE VENDORS have long had a voice within the industry, the licensing end user has never had an equivalent, and as licensing agreements become more audacious and complex, the need for IT Managers to know where they stand is increasing, according to the Campaign for Clear Licensing (CLL).

The Campaign for Clear Licensing was set up earlier this year to be that voice, and last month it appointed Mark Flynn as its first chief executive, the former head of Snow Software. Chatting with The INQUIRER, Flynn told us about the campaign and why he believes it means a better deal for vendor and user alike.

Flynn said, "There's an absolute hole in the market for what we're proposing. The likes of Microsoft, IBM, Oracle, all the other vendors - they've got representation. But the end user? Absolutely nothing. And they're crying out for it.

"The way we see it, it's a marriage. Both sides need each other, but there's a tension there. Our members need to be protected and respected because there's sharp sales practice, aggressive auditing and the licensing is often so complicated that as an IT manager I need a law degree to understand what, as an end user is the right thing."

The campaign has already begun to build relationships with big companies, opening what Flynn called a "friendly dialogue" with Oracle. However, while the database behemoth has welcomed the work of the CCL, the cordiality comes with a warning.

Flynn explained, "Oracle, with the release of its 12.2.1 version, has developed a fantastic feature which turbo-charges the database. It's fantastic. They spend billions of pounds developing it but rather than telling people about it and asking end users if they want it, they've rolled it up into the update - those who want it have it installed, those who don't want it have it installed and if I don't want it, it's still going to cost me an extra $23,000. Why do it? Why not educate the customer and give them the option rather than offer it a default?"

But Flynn was keen to point out that this is not a sign of greed or malice, but usually a simple case of sloppiness. He added, "I don't want to believe the cynical view, so I'm sure Oracle didn't set out to be malicious, but there's two ways to look at it, and what's actually happened is its created a bad news story for Oracle when there was just no need for one, so what we're doing is as much in the interest of the vendor and the end user."

As as result of the CCL campaign, Oracle has gone on to become the first software company to be accredited as compliant with the CCL code of conduct.

But to re-emphasise on which side of the divide CLL loyalties lie, when we ask about the recent court decision that gave Oracle leave to sue Google over its use of Java APIs in the Android mobile operating system, Flynn's answer is short and to the point.

"I haven't got an opinion. We're here to represent end users. Let the tech giants fight amongst themselves."

He chuckled and continued, "We're not setting out to change the world. We still want software companies to make lots of money and that's not going to change. But there's got to be some fairness built in so as an end user I don't fear the vendor and I don't fear approaching the vendor.

"The big question for us is, what are these mantraps that companies fall foul of in licensing? We need to know that so we can share that with other end users to make sure they don't make the same mistakes. That's one part of what we do, but the other half of relates to lobbying the giants to avoid putting these traps into their code in the first place".

The campaign has launched in the UK with plans to roll out worldwide starting with Germany and the United States. With the complexities of international law, language barriers and the might of the corporations, we asked Flynn if he agreed that it has the potential to make powerful enemies.

He replied, "We're a light touch, not for profit organisation that will be relying on our members to share this knowledge either upfront or anonymously. We'll be relying on that vibrant end user community to reach out and then we will collate that, form consensus and lobby that consensus."

But, we asked, can he rely on his members to use the same tact and diplomacy? He said, "We've got to be careful of course. All the information will be behind a members' paywall and can be given anonymously, but it goes the other way and we have to be careful to ensure that our users aren't actually breaking the law themselves by giving out information protected under NDA.

"Our goal is licensing in plain English that anyone can understand and comply with. The big guns have got hundreds of thousands of legal people across the road - we're not going to try and compete with them, we just want to be able to reach out to them and tell them where we feel it can be improved."

For vendors the opportunity will be there to wear the CLL logo as a badge of honour to confirm that the company conforms with the code of conduct and best practices promoted by the organisation.

The campaign is looking for 100 Founder Vendors that will be given a preferential membership rate in return for a promise that they will seed the community and nuture it, owning the forums and special interest groups. Membership is available to organisations and individuals.

Anyone interested in becoming involved in the Campaign for Clear Licensing can visit its website. µ


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