Moglen: GPL 3.0 Rewrite Drive Is No Democracy

By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2005-11-02 Print this article Print

Community participation will be encouraged in the further development of the open-source license, although the FSF says the rewrite is "not an election."

NEWTON, Mass.—Users will be free to comment on the upcoming complex and technical draft versions of the GNU General Public License 3.0 in an easy way, according to Eben Moglen, general counsel for the Free Software Foundation. However, Moglen said Wednesday, speaking at the Open Source Business Conference here, the rewrite of the GPL is not an election and there will be no voting on its clauses. In a session entitled "GPL 3.0: Directions, Implications, Casualties," Moglen said that when GPL 2.0 was promulgated some 14 years ago, very few people cared about it.
On the advice of a few dozen people and a couple of lawyers, it was written and released.
"That was a fine system then. It is not a fine system now," he said. "I expect the process around GPL 3.0, when it begins in some 60 to 90 days time, to collect a great deal of comment from people on the draft documents. "Committees of discussion will be established with the goal of doing outreach and encouraging discussion and comments. The next step is then to turn those comments into specific issues and to discuss those issues. These committees will then also issue reports on those areas," he said. But the one constant across all releases of the GPL has been that it was designed to protect user rights and had four main elements: the right to run software for any purpose without the need for additional permission; the right to copy the software; the right to modify the software, including the right of private modification; and the most important right, which is the right to share the software, he said. Click here to read more about Eben Moglens talk at the OSBC about the GPL and the meaning of free software. In order to protect those rights, the GPL attached conditions to that sharing, including that no one elses level of rights may be reduced below the level of right held by the user sharing the code. The next version of the LGPL (Lesser GPL) will be done in the same cycle as GPL version 3, Moglen said, but it will be taken a little out of phase. The issues around GPL version 2 will likely be first discussed and then a draft version of LGPL version 3 will likely be released, although no final decisions have been made on that, he said. Diane Peters, the general counsel for the Open Source Development Labs, said it was difficult to predict where OSDL members would like GPL 3.0 to land, so the OSDL would be actively encouraging members to get involved in the process and have their voices heard. "GPL and open-source software is here and affects your business in many ways, and so listening to the best and the brightest is very important. This will also be a very public and watched process and so we need those leaders in the community to step forward and play an important role. It is also rare that we get to see a license under development and to get involved in that process," she said. For more about what to expect in Version 3 of the GPL, click here. Peters said there was a lot of interest from people abroad and they would be actively involved in the process. She also suggested that there would be a lot of "FUD" (fear, uncertainty and doubt) coming from those who have the most to lose from the success of open-source software. "The ability to take away information that allows users to dissect the FUD that will be out there is a compelling reason to become involved," Peters said. Mike Milinkovich, the executive director of the Eclipse Foundation, said the fact that Microsoft is now saying that Eclipse is more expensive to use than its Visual Studio development environment "is a sign of how far we have come. We take those remarks as one of the highest compliments we can be given," he said. The Eclipse Foundation would consider a move to GPL 3.0, but the gains of such a move would have to be significant for this to happen, Milinkovich said. He added that as the Eclipse Foundation had gone through the pain of one licensing move already, when it switched last year from the Common Public License to the Eclipse Public License for open-source software published under its auspices, the benefits motivating another change would have to be compelling. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest open-source news, reviews and analysis.
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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