Is third-party support and maintenance legal?

There’s a lot of confusion and rumours around the nature and legality of third-party support for Oracle and SAP software. We explain why third-party support is legal, how we make sure that it stays that way, and what happened to create this myth in the first place.

“Is third-party support legal?”

Whether you’re evaluating the possibility of switching to third-party support or you’ve only just heard about it, chances are that at some point, you’ll hear something like:

“Third-party support? Isn’t that supposed to be illegal?”

It’s a common myth, and one which can prove to be a potential problem for certain members of your organisation. This is especially true when you are trying to build a business case to switch from the vendor to an alternative support provider.

Some people think it is because the whole industry sounds too good to be true, worrying that a minimum saving of 50% must come at the expense of support quality. But this isn’t true, and it’s quickly dispelled as soon as you compare support contracts and SLAs.

So, why do people question whether third-party support is legal? What put the doubt in their minds?

To get the full answer to this though, you need to ask two questions.

Question one: Are we operating legally?

The main reason behind this myth likely stems from a lengthy court case, between Oracle and USA-based third-party support provider Rimini Street. It’s common knowledge by now, especially given that the dispute resurfaces every few years when one side decides to appeal the charges against them.

For anyone interested in the full story, or if you just fancy reminding yourself of what happened, we’ve written a more in-depth blog post on the Oracle vs Rimini Street lawsuit.

Here’s the condensed version:

  • Rimini Street was using its customer’s logins to access Oracle technical support sites and download software and support materials. Rimini Street also used this to develop its own fixes and patches and was creating copies of software to provide cheaper support.
  • Oracle sued on the grounds of copyright infringement, and following a trial in 2015, Oracle won the lawsuit. Rimini Street had to pay millions in settlement, and was served a permanent injunction, preventing the company from any additional illegal acts of copyright infringement and computer fraud.
  • So began a four-year-long series of appeals and retrials, during which Rimini Street tried to reduce the charges against it (to varying success). But no matter how often the charges were changed, the one factor that remained in place was the injunction against Rimini Street.
  • That said, the courts did confirm that outside of the infringement, Rimini Street (and third-party support in general) was a legal alternative to vendor provided support.

In summary, Rimini Street’s business practices at the time were illegal, and it has since announced that it no longer engages with the same conduct. It is this case though that has cast a shadow over the industry and put doubt in the minds of many around the legality of third-party support.

We have never followed these practices and are a 100% legal alternative to Oracle/SAP Support.

Question two: Are you operating legally?

Now you know that we follow legal practices in supplying support, you need to know whether YOU can legally switch support providers. It all depends on your licence agreement.

Oracle customers

What you need to know is that broadly, there are two types of ERP licences:

ULA (Unlimited Licence Agreement)Licences in perpetuity
An Unlimited Licence Agreement (ULA) is an arrangement between your organisation and Oracle to access its software.
You make an upfront payment to get as many licences as you need for a specified set of Oracle products across a fixed period (typically, three years). Then, you pay for its support on top.
Your organisation has bought the licences outright – you own them.
You also own the software, which means you get to choose how you want to use it and customise it. You can even sell it on the third-party market.

If your organisation has access to Oracle products via a ULA, part of the agreement is that you must be on the vendor’s support. You cannot use a third-party support provider.

What if you are stuck on a ULA but want to move to third-party support?

To any customers currently on ULAs who may currently be reconsidering, it is possible to switch licence types. You can either:

1. Buy your way out

There is a certification process at the end of your term, where you can certify what products you’re using and agree a figure to leave the ULA. Oracle will try to say that you don’t fully understand what you need, and suggest a new ULA. Be careful, however, as here the cycle of paying too much for what you are using can potentially continue.

Watch our webinar on escaping ULAs to discover the traps and tricks Oracle employs to keep you locked in.

2. Not renew at the end of the term

In either situation, you’re going to have to prove to Oracle that the licensing you’re taking on will be enough to cover you. Think of it as a mini audit to ensure your compliance, before you’re able to fully own your software.

SAP customers

SAP doesn’t offer its customers ULAs in the same way Oracle does. However, its Cloud-based products are all subscription based. So, similarly to a ULA, you don’t physically own the software but pay a set amount in order to use the product. You then pay for support on top.

Licences for SAP’s other products such as Private or Enterprise can be purchased in perpetuity. This gives you the same freedom to customise the software and/or switch to third-party support.

Oracle and SAP don’t make this easy

We’ve noticed confusion on this topic among Oracle and SAP customers. Some believe that having any product at all with Oracle or SAP means you have to use their support model, but this isn’t the case.

Oracle and SAP’s marketing is partly to blame for this.

They add to the myth that in order to use their software, you must remain on their support programme, regardless of the licence type you have. Naturally, Oracle and SAP aren’t going to broadcast that perpetually licensed customers don’t have to follow this rule. Then both types of customers will continue to pay for their support.

Their contracts and terms and conditions are also to blame; licences can be incredibly complex to understand, to the point that staying with Oracle or SAP Support appears to be the ‘easier’ option.

Example: Oracle’s matching service levels policy

Oracle specifically adds to the confusion amongst its customers with its ‘matching service levels’ policy. If you own licences for two related Oracle products, then by its terms, both products must have the same level of support from Oracle. For example, the products can be in full support, extended support, or no support at all.

Oracle then uses this policy to force customers into expensive, partially needed support contracts. The vendor also uses it to advise customers that they cannot terminate support on one contract, or else they lose support on all their Oracle software.

Tip: Oracle’s matching service levels policy only applies to licences in the same product family. You do not need to have the same level of support across all Oracle products. Get to know your support contract, and if Oracle contact you about it, be sure to get everything in writing.

The policy helps Oracle keep its customers confused and unsure about the options available to them, meaning they’ll stick to the vendor’s support. After all, blocking the idea of third-party support helps make Oracle money, not the customer.

Summary: Support Revolution is 100% legal

When you switch to third-party support with Support Revolution, we provide your software support and maintenance, replacing Oracle or SAP.

That’s pretty much it. We don’t interfere with anything beyond that, and we certainly don’t access software that neither you nor we have the right to use.

So, if/when someone asks you, “third-party support? Isn’t that supposed to be illegal?” You can tell them no. Third-party support is legal and there’s plenty of evidence to prove it.

If you’re still unsure, or want to chat about switching to third-party support, we’d be happy to hear from you.

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