GPL 3s DRM Provisions Raise Eyebrows

By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2006-01-26 Print this article Print

The Free Software Foundation is already hearing complaints from companies about the GPL 3's provisions for digital rights management, which it calls "a malicious feature and can never be tolerated."

The first draft discussion document for the next version of the GNU General Public License has only just been released, but some businesses are already expressing concern about its digital rights management provisions. Richard Stallman, the founder of the Free Software Foundation and co-author of the first draft discussion document, said at the launch event on Jan. 16 that DRM "is a malicious feature and can never be tolerated, as DRM is fundamentally based on activities that cannot be done with free software. That is its goal and it is in direct opposition to ours. But, with the new GPL, we can now prevent our software from being perverted or corrupted," he said. Click here to read a one-on-one interview with Richard Stallman from the GPL draft conference at MIT.
While Eben Moglen, the general counsel for the FSF and the co-author of the draft license, acknowledged to eWEEK that there is already unhappiness among some companies with regard to the DRM provisions, he admitted that the new license will not satisfy everyone.
The business community is as big and diverse as the hacker community and will respond in a variety of ways to the DRM and other issues with the license. "These can then be played off one against the other," he said. "Many of the businesses that are, and will be, concerned about DRM will be concerned precisely because they are subjected to so much coercive pressure from a few big businesses in the world, which pistol whip and humiliate them publicly," Moglen said. That pressure was reflected back when the FSF attempted to defend itself against the assaults on its freedom by those same businesses, he said, adding that he has "great sympathy" for those businessmen who are caught square in the middle of a community trying to defend its freedom and the businesses that are trying to attack it. "They are caught in the middle, and that is unpleasant," he said. The DRM provisions are designed to go after companies like TiVo, which uses Linux but collects information on consumers actions. While TiVo complies with GPL 2.0, it may have more difficulty complying with GPLv3s anti-DRM provisions. Asked if TiVo could avoid using GPL 3.0 when that license is released next year, Moglen said, "Once a GPLd work has been relicensed under GPLv3, although a party having a copy under GPLv2 could continue to distribute it under that license, any further maintenance from upstream would force the license upgrade." TiVo could avoid using GPL 3.0 even if, say, the Linux kernel were to change licenses, but only by freezing itself at the last version of the kernel that was licensed under GPL 2. "That will prove to be impracticable in almost every real commercial setting," Moglen said. In a document explaining the reasons for the changes in the GPL, Moglen and Stallman said that DRM is fundamentally at odds with the spirit of the free software movement. To read the rationale behind the GPL 3.0 draft changes, click here. "Unfree software implementing DRM technology is simply a prison in which users can be put to deprive them of the rights that the law would otherwise allow them. Our aim is, and must be, the abolition of DRM as a social practice. Anything less than complete victory leaves the freedom of software in grave peril," they said. Next Page: Leverage against DRM.

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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