GPLs DRM Provisions Worry Businesses

By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2006-01-30 Print this article Print

The first draft discussion document for the next version of the gnu general public license has only just been released, but some businesses already are expressing concern about its digital rights management provisions.

The first draft discussion document for the next version of the GNU General Public License has only just been released, but some businesses already are expressing concern about its digital rights management provisions.

Richard Stallman, 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 stance could irk enterprise users who may be fans of DRM, which, broadly defined, is software that limits how digital data is used. While Eben Moglen, the general counsel for the FSF and the co-author of the draft license, acknowledged to eWEEK that there already is 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," Moglen said.

The DRM provisions are designed to go after companies such as Tivo, which uses Linux but collects information on consumers actions. While Tivo complies with GPL 2.0, it may have more difficulty complying with the new provisions.

Asked if Tivo could avoid using GPL 3.0 when that license is released next year, Moglen said, "Once a GPLed 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."

Many of the Linux and open-source vendors declined to comment publicly about the DRM provisions in GPL 3.0. Christine Martino, vice president of Hewlett-Packards open-source and Linux organization, in Palo Alto, Calif., told eWEEK the company appreciates that the FSF is concerned about DRM generally and about its implications for the ability to modify software.

"This is a difficult issue for which there is no simple answer for the FSF," Martino said. "It is too early to know what specific feedback HP might offer."

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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