Moglen: GPL 3.0 Rewrite Drive Is No Democracy

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.

/zimages/6/28571.gifClick 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.

/zimages/6/28571.gifFor 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.

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