Is third-party support and maintenance legal?

legal third party support

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 along the lines of:

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

It’s a common belief, and one which can prove to be a potential problem for certain members of your organisation, especially 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 is quickly dispelled as a myth as soon as you compare service offerings and SLAs.

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

To get the full answer to this though, you need to ask two questions. One, are we (Support Revolution) operating legally; and two, are you operating legally?

Question One: Are we operating legally?

The main reason behind this myth, that “third-party support isn’t legal” 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 were using their customer’s logins to access Oracle technical support sites, to then download software and support materials. Rimini Street also used this to develop their own fixes and patches and were creating copies of software to provide cheaper support.
  • Oracle sued on the grounds of copyright infringement, and following a trial in 2015, they won the lawsuit. Rimini Street had to pay millions in settlement, and were served a permanent injunction, preventing them 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 them (to varying success). But no matter how often the charges were changed, the one factor which remained in place was the injunction against them.
  • 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 they have since announced that they no longer engage 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.

The bottom line is though, we have never followed these practices and are a 100% legal alternative to Oracle/SAP Support.

Question Two: Are you operating legally?

So, now you know that we follow legal practices in supplying support, the next thing you need to be aware of is whether YOU can legally switch support providers based on your licence agreement.

Oracle customers

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

ULA (Unlimited License Agreement)License in perpetuity
An Unlimited License Agreement (ULA) is an arrangement between your organisation and Oracle to access their software.
 
You make an up-front payment to get as many licenses as you need, for a specified set of Oracle products, across a fixed period. (Typically, three years.) Then, you pay for their support on top.
Your organisation has bought the licences outright, so 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, if you want to, on the third-party market.

If your organisation has access to Oracle products via a ULA, then part of the agreement’s rules is 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 to in-perpetuity. 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 for you. Be careful, however, as here the cycle of paying too much for what you are using can potentially continue.

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 don’t offer their customers ULAs in the same way that Oracle do; but their 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 – then pay for support on top.

Licences for SAP’s other products, such as Private or Enterprise, can be purchased in-perpetuity – so you have 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, because 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 Policy

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

Oracle then use this policy, to either force customers into expensive, partially needed support contracts; or they use 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 their 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 them money, not the customer.

Summary: Support Revolution is 100% legal

When you switch to third-party support, such as Support Revolution, we provide your software support and maintenance, instead of Oracle or SAP providing the service.

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.