Will Canonical Become the Target of Oracle’s Next Licensing Lawsuit?

Oracle vs Canonical lawsuit

Back in February of this year, Canonical announced that the 16.04 release of Ubuntu would include ZFS. ZFS, also known as the Z File System, is a groundbreaking file system. It has been described by Softpedia as a “mix of a file system like Btrfs, EXT4, or XFS, and a volume manager, such as LVM (Logical Volume Management).” It features protection against data corruption, snapshots, automatic repair, data compression, and more.

No wonder ZFS is one of the most talked about Ubuntu 16.04 features.

So What’s the Problem?

In one word, licensing.

Ubuntu is licensed under the GNU General Public License. ZFS is released under the Common Development and Distribution License.

According to Richard Stallman, creator of the GNU General Public License and founder of the GNU movement, these license are incompatible. Stallman stated, “Code under GPL-incompatible licenses cannot be added, neither in source nor binary form, without violating the GPL.”

Stallman is not alone in this opinion. The Software Freedom Conservancy said the following in a statement:

“Conservancy and the Linux copyright holders in the GPL Compliance Project for Linux Developers believe that distribution of ZFS binaries is a GPL violation and infringes Linux’s copyright. We are also concerned that it may infringe Oracle’s copyrights in ZFS.”

Canonical does not agree. In fact, a Canonical employee named Dustin Kirkland said the following on his blog:

“We at Canonical have conducted a legal review, including discussion with the industry’s leading software freedom legal counsel, of the licenses that apply to the Linux kernel and to ZFS.”

“And in doing so, we have concluded that we are acting within the rights granted and in compliance with their terms of both of those licenses. Others have independently achieved the same conclusion. Differing opinions exist, but please bear in mind that these are opinions.”

Should Canonical be Worried?

I’m not a lawyer, just a commentator. I can’t tell you if Oracle has a case or not.

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However, Oracle has a history of suing to protect their copyrights. They opened a lawsuit against Google over the use of Java in Android. The also sued Hewlett-Packard Enterprise for selling Solaris support. They sued a company named Rimini Street for the same reason. SAP was sued by Oracle for downloading thousands of copyrighted documents and programs from Oracle’s website. I’m sure I missed a few.

In my opinion, Canonical should be worried because if Oracle perceives that you violated their copyright, they will sue. Thus far, Oracle has not commented on Canonical’s use ZFS, but you can bet that they are in deep discussion with their lawyers.

Final Thoughts

If I was Canonical (or anyone else), I would stay far way from any Oracle owned properties.

What do you think Oracle will do? What do you think about ZFS in Ubuntu? Please comment below.

Update: Article originally stated that Stallman created the CDDL. That was in correct. He created the GPL. Article has been updated.


  1. Oh I also forgot to add this comment.
    As far as I am concerned Oracle has degenerated into nothing more than a copy right troll who sues at the drop of a hat! When is the last time you have heard of any new innovations that Oracle has come up with?

  2. Canonical should handle the ZFS the same way most distros handle codecs and the NTFS-3G user space driver. Do not directly include them in the distros release but make it easy for each user to use them or not. This way the developers of a distro are not violating anyone’s copy rights or perceived copy rights. Handling these grey areas this way leaves it up to the individual user to possibly be in violation or not to be.

  3. BSD uses ZFS file system. If Oracle sues Canonical, this internecine warfare will only escalate. All open source licences should be unified immediately so that such situations do not arise.

  4. As i understand zfs is used through a library or a third party kernel modules. So it is not included into a binaries or source. And Canonical is not distributing Ubuntu, but services around Ubuntu. The status is very particular.
    Now, i will not surprised if behind this, Oracle and Canonical works together to create a partnership. I will not surprised to learn that in the future, Oracle Linux will be an Ubuntu based, with the help of Canonical

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