GPL 3.0 Draft Tackles Patents, Compatibility

The newly released draft of the GNU General Public License addresses issues of patent retaliation and clarifies the idea of "copyleft," among other changes.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass.—The first discussion draft of the GNU General Public License was finally released on Monday, and addresses the issues of patents and patent-related retaliation, as well as its compatibility with other licenses.

Richard Stallman, the founder of the Free Software Foundation and author of the original license, was the first to take the floor here at the First International Conference on GPLv3 at MIT (the Massachusetts Institute of Technology), to express his vision for the new license.

Speaking to several hundred attendees, Stallman said, "The world has sprung nasty threats on the community and so the license needed to be updated. This need was realized four years ago when some discussions took place about a new license."

/zimages/1/28571.gifClick here for the full text of the first draft of GPL 3.0.

The biggest changes to the license were in the area of license compatibility, removing the obstacles that prevented it from being combined with code from other free software packages.

"We have now put in provisions to extend the number of licenses and code compatible with the GPL. We think this will benefit our community," Stallman said.

This seems to address the hopes of open-source software advocates, many of whom were hoping that effective provisions for software patents, as well as GPL compatibility with other licenses, would be prominent in the draft.

The other biggest changes to the license were regarding the issue of DRM (Digital Rights Management), which was seen as denying users the freedom to control the software they had.

"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.

A patent license grant has now also been included, as well as a narrow kind of patent retaliation clause. "If person A makes a modified version of a GPL-covered program and then gets a patent on that and says if anyone else makes such a modified version, they will be sued, he then loses the right to make any modifications, meaning he cant commercially use his software," Stallman said.

While the license does not require that the modified version be released, it does ensure that others would not be prevented from writing similar modifications under the license, he said.

An effort had also been made to use language that would prevent differences with international copy licenses, but these changes were so small as to be barely noticeable, Stallman said.

Eben Moglen, the general counsel for the FSF and the co-author of GPL 3.0, told the audience that the process had been "lonely and a little too secret" over the past few months, and that he preferred to be able to talk about it publicly.

/zimages/1/28571.gifRead Eben Moglens comments here about why the GPL 3.0 drafting process is not democratic.

"I have been working with Richard for 13 years, and it was after just a few months of first working with him that we started talking about what would follow GPL 2.0. We are now there," he said.

Next Page: Specific changes to the license.