Controversy Swirls Around Changes in GPLv3

By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2007-03-27 Print this article Print

While the move to block deals like the one between Novell and Microsoft will not prevent Novell from using existing GPLv2 software in its present versions, it could have a chilling effect on the company going forward.

As the Free Software Foundation prepares to release the third discussion draft on the GNU General Public License on March 28, the question being asked is whether the move to block future deals like the controversial one between Microsoft and Novell will forever doom the license.

Open-source evangelist and developer Bruce Perens confirmed to eWEEK on March 27 that GPLv3 does contain a provision that blocks deals like the one between Novell and Microsoft, and explained how it would work.
"If any entity that distributes the software arranges to protect a particular group from patents regarding that software, it must protect everyone. This mends the loophole exploited in the Novell-Microsoft agreement without being discriminatory or unfair," Perens said.
Read more here about why Novells CEO has no regrets about the deal with Microsoft. But Linux-Watch editor Steven Vaughan-Nichols, who has talked to many lawyers about this, reports that "their informal consensus is that getting clauses into GPLv3 that will block similar deals from happening in the future, while avoiding cutting legitimatize software patents uses off at the knees, is going to be almost impossible." But, to Perens, therein lies the key difference between them and the FSF, which he says "doesnt really see any legitimate uses for software patents. They dont have to separate the good guys from the bad guys in that regard, because they think theyre all bad guys. "This is consistent with GPLv2, which comes with a patent license for everyone in the world to use your patented algorithm in any GPL software they like, once you distribute GPL code using that algorithm," Perens said. The patent issue has been a contentious one throughout the GPLv3 drafting process. Click here to read more. Asked how he thought those large patent holders that were also active members of the open-source community, like IBM, HP and Novell, would react to that assessment, Perens said the question was whether GPLv3 would force them to give away so much of their patent rights that it [GPLv3] would be untenable for them to use. "I think it will allow them to preserve their accustomed patent rights regarding any software that isnt using the GPL, which is pretty much what they had before," he said. So, for Perens, while this change will not prevent Novell from using existing GPLv2 software in its present versions, it could "freeze them in amber as an example of the state of software in early 2007, as the rest of the free software community and Linux distributions move into the future," he said. It was also important that the GPL "continues to grow just to stand still. To freeze on one version would act to erode its protections over time," Perens said, citing as an example the loophole constructed by Novell and Microsoft attorneys, which will now be closed. "That loophole was so new to us that the first two public drafts of GPL3 contained no provision to repair it," he said. Is GPLv3 dead on arrival? Click here to read more. But ACT (the Association for Competitive Technology), which has previously been accused of being an association founded and cultivated solely to protect Microsofts interests in Washington, views the issue differently. ACT expects the draft to include language to "attack" patent deals like the one recently struck by Microsoft and Novell. Additionally, the new draft is expected to force TiVo, cell phone makers and other device companies that use open-source software to allow the "hacking" of those specific devices, and to continue to provide services and warrantees for the hacked devices. Next Page: Why Linux community is resisting the draft.

Peter Galli has been a financial/technology reporter for 12 years at leading publications in South Africa, the UK and the US. He has been Investment Editor of South Africa's Business Day Newspaper, the sister publication of the Financial Times of London.

He was also Group Financial Communications Manager for First National Bank, the second largest banking group in South Africa before moving on to become Executive News Editor of Business Report, the largest daily financial newspaper in South Africa, owned by the global Independent Newspapers group.

He was responsible for a national reporting team of 20 based in four bureaus. He also edited and contributed to its weekly technology page, and launched a financial and technology radio service supplying daily news bulletins to the national broadcaster, the South African Broadcasting Corporation, which were then distributed to some 50 radio stations across the country.

He was then transferred to San Francisco as Business Report's U.S. Correspondent to cover Silicon Valley, trade and finance between the US, Europe and emerging markets like South Africa. After serving that role for more than two years, he joined eWeek as a Senior Editor, covering software platforms in August 2000.

He has comprehensively covered Microsoft and its Windows and .Net platforms, as well as the many legal challenges it has faced. He has also focused on Sun Microsystems and its Solaris operating environment, Java and Unix offerings. He covers developments in the open source community, particularly around the Linux kernel and the effects it will have on the enterprise.

He has written extensively about new products for the Linux and Unix platforms, the development of open standards and critically looked at the potential Linux has to offer an alternative operating system and platform to Windows, .Net and Unix-based solutions like Solaris.

His interviews with senior industry executives include Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, Linus Torvalds, the original developer of the Linux operating system, Sun CEO Scot McNealy, and Bill Zeitler, a senior vice president at IBM.

For numerous examples of his writing you can search under his name at the eWEEK Website at


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