Maintaining monopolies with the cloud

Microsoft, Oracle and other cloud giants use their terms of service to prevent competition.

Cory Doctorow


Correction: An earlier draft of this article incorrectly stated that John D Rockefeller owned the railroads that shipped product for the Standard Oil Company. In reality, Rockefeller controlled those railroads through bribery and coercion, not an equity stake. I regret the error.

“There is no cloud, there is only other people’s computers.” It’s funny because it’s true, and the “other people” in this case are rapacious, vertically integrated monopolies that use their cloud businesses to put their customers in cages.

The Coalition For Fair Software Licensing is a group of businesses that have banded together to resist some of the most worst cloud-based abuses. Their main targets are companies like Oracle and Microsoft who sell software, software as a service, and cloud hosting, and use these three prongs to entrap and gouge their customers.

Writing for Bloomberg, Brody Ford gives a high-level view of the scam: whereby integrated monopolists charge extra to run their rivals’ software on their cloud systems, or block them altogether. That makes it hard — or impossible — to shop around for cloud services:

The group itself lists nine demands for “cloud fairness,” ranging from no-brainers (“Licensing terms should be clear and intelligible”) to absolute yikes!es like “Freedom from retaliation for cloud choices” (involving “intrusive software audits” and “higher software licensing fees”).

The Coalition’s beefs are familiar ones, echoing the fights that led to the creation of antitrust law in the 19th century. Back then, small businesses were at the mercy of another kind of infrastructure: railways, who operated chokepoints between producers and their customers.

These railways weren’t just operating the playing field — they also owned one of the teams. They would operate their own businesses that competed directly against the freighters whose goods…