GPLv3 Finally Hits the Streets

The new license arrives after 18 months of consultation, four published drafts and thousands of comments.

After 18 months of consultation, four published drafts and thousands of comments, on June 29 the Free Software Foundation released Version 3 of the GNU General Public License—its first update in more than 16 years.

The final version of the Lesser GPL was also released June 29. FSF founder and President Richard Stallman, who drafted the licenses along with General Counsel Eben Moglen, announced the releases at an event in Boston.

He said since the free software movement was founded more than 23 years ago, the community had developed thousands of useful programs that respect user freedom, including programs used in the GNU/Linux operating system, as well as personal computers, telephones and Internet servers.

"Most of these programs use the GNU GPL to guarantee every user the freedom to run, study, adapt, improve and redistribute the program," he said.

Version 3 of the license strengthens this guarantee by ensuring that users can modify the free software on their personal and household devices and by granting patent licenses to every user, while also extending compatibility with other free software licenses and increasing international uniformity, he said.

But the drafting of the new license has not been without its own challenges and controversies; in fact, Linus Torvalds, the father of Linux, has said he has yet to see "any actual reasons for licensing under the GPLv3."

/zimages/7/28571.gifClick here to read more about why Torvalds doesnt plan to move Linux to the GPLv3.

The Samba team, which announced in December that it planned to move to GPLv3 as soon as possible, welcomed the new license as a great improvement on Version 2. Samba programmer Jeremy Allison—who left Novell after its controversial patent agreement with Microsoft—speaking for the entire team, said Version 3 was "a necessary update to deal with the new threats to free software that have emerged since Version 2 of the GPL."

The final license is published here.

"By hearing from so many different groups in a public drafting process, we have been able to write a license that successfully addresses a broad spectrum of concerns. But even more importantly, these different groups have had an opportunity to find common ground on important issues facing the free software community today, such as patents, Tivoization, and Treacherous [Trusted] Computing," said FSF Executive Director Peter Brown.

Tivoization blocks modified software from running, while "Treacherous" Computing enables Web sites to refuse to talk to modified software.

"Both are typically used to impose malicious features such as Digital Restrictions Management... GPL Version 3 does not restrict the features of a program; in particular, it does not prohibit DRM. However, it prohibits the use of Tivoization and Treacherous Computing to stop users from changing the software. Thus, they are free to remove whatever features they may dislike," Brown said.

/zimages/7/28571.gifClick here to read about why the FSF targeted Apple stores with anti-DRM protests.

More than 15 GNU programs will be released under the new license on June 29, and the entire GNU Project will follow suit in the coming months.

The FSF will also encourage adoption of the license through education and outreach programs. "A lot of time and effort went into this license. Now free programs must adopt it so as to offer their users its stronger protection for their freedom," Stallman said.

The new license also grandfathers in the Novell deal with the hope that the SUSE Linux Enterprise Server coupons that Microsoft is selling and giving to customers will undermine its patent threats.

Horacio Gutierrez, vice president of Intellectual Property and Licensing for Microsoft, based in Redmond, Wash., would only say that the company was evaluating the newly released language in the license. "We remain committed to building bridges between the open-source and proprietary software communities and will continue to foster collaboration opportunities to address the needs of our customers," he said.

Kevan Barney, a spokesperson for Novell, headquartered in Waltham, Mass., said the final release of GPLv3 reaffirmed Novells ability to include technologies licensed under GPLv2 or GPLv3 in SUSE Linux Enterprise, OpenSUSE and other Novell offerings, and to deliver these technologies to its customers.

/zimages/7/28571.gifMicrosoft said it sees no conflict between its patent stance and outreach to the open-source community. Read more here.

Barney said, "We note that the language which grandfathered the Novell-Microsoft agreement from a key patent provision remains in the final version. All of this is good news for our customers … The terms of the final version of GPLv3 will allow our continued collaboration with Microsoft. We remain committed to that partnership, which we believe will help grow the Linux market and satisfy long-standing customer needs for interoperability in a mixed-source world. We look forward to providing the fruits of this to our customers and our fellow community members in accord with our previously outlined road map," Barney said.

Simon Phipps, chief open-source officer at Sun Microsystems, headquartered in Santa Clara, Calif., welcomed the license revisions as important steps in the evolution of the free software movement, particularly as it clarified language that was unclear in GPLv2, thereby providing a firmer basis for certainty in the interpretation of the license, he said.

But Phipps was noncommittal about Suns actual plans to use the new license, saying in his blog that while it was likely that Sun would use the license, "Im not clear yet for which code and when. Well be carefully analyzing the balance of benefits and risks in the released version of the GPLv3 and Im not expecting to be in a position to bring a recommendation to our executive team for several weeks. Im keen for us to take a leading position, though, even if some are skeptical of our motives," he said.

Sun is in a position of stewardship of a large number of copyrights for free software, and it would be a mistake for it to assume that it was free to do whatever it wanted, Phipps said. "Were not. In communities where Sun is the steward (like OpenJDK and OpenSolaris), contributors are asked to share their rights with the community via Sun in part so that license changes like this are possible. While Sun holds those aggregated rights on trust, it would be a mistake to assume Sun can just change the license without any form of community discussion," he wrote.

/zimages/7/28571.gifIs a Linux civil war in the making? Click here to read more.

"As a consequence, the license choices for those communities will not be changing yet. If it happens, you can expect to see discussion in the affected community first. Is this a vote against GPLv3? No. Its a mark of respect for the trust placed in Sun by those communities," he said.

Linux vendor Red Hat, based in Raleigh, N.C., said it would continue to contribute to projects that migrate from GPLv2 or other licenses to GPLv3, and will look to include GPLv3-licensed projects in future distributions. The company also said in a blog post that it believes its customers would benefit from several of the new provisions in GPLv3, including the patent license provisions.

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