NEWTON, Mass.—Eben Moglen, the general counsel for the Free Software Foundation, wants to spend his time at the Open Source Business Conference here on Wednesday talking about more than the upcoming GPL Version 3, of which he is a co-author, but he also wants to discuss what free and open-source software means to business users and why user rights are so important to them.
Moglen, along with Diane Peters, the general counsel for the Open Source Development Labs, and Mike Milinkovich, the executive director of the Eclipse Foundation, will be talking at a session titled “GPL 3.0: Directions, Implications, Casualties.”
Moglen will talk about GNU GPL (General Public License) 3.0 and the fact that the FSF (Free Software Foundation) is just weeks away from announcing the roadmap and process that will govern the release of the first draft of the rewritten GNU General Public License.
The FSF is also expected to release within the next month a process document that tells people exactly what the rules are going to be for the discussion and comment submission process around GPL Version 3.
But Moglen is not expected to give much more detail than this, given his desire to “put all that information out publicly at one time, and we expect this will take place sometime in November,” he told eWEEK.
“I want to use my talk to discuss how copyleft, community-based development changes business operations software and their communication structures and so on.
“I will also use the time to talk about how technology that many initially thought would enable better business-to-business communication, like XML, is in danger of being locked up and vendors tied-in and reproprietized in ways that businesses constantly have to struggle against if they want to reap the full benefits of those technologies,” he told eWEEK in an interview in advance of his talk.
Moglen said he would cite examples of this in his talk, including the need for instant messaging to be based on open standards and for VOIP (voice over IP) not to be monopolized or chopped into segments that could not interoperate with one another.
“I am going to draw a few simple inferences from those facts about the relation between business and its technology to show why GPL-like free software that protects its own and users freedoms is so important,” he said.
Asked how much support there was for open standards in the business community, Moglen said the open standards idea has enormous vigor in it at the moment.
“I think when you see the Commonwealth of Massachusetts requires an OpenDocument format, you know that there is an enormous parade that is going to form up behind the first really large public user with the gumption to demand that,” he said.
Interoperability is a word that has found its way into the press releases and the chalk talks “of the monopoly [Microsoft] last year because it is the centerpiece of everybodys concern about 21st-century technology,” Moglen said.
Interoperability and Competition
The two biggest games in global IT at the moment are securing interoperability and securing a competitive market for services so that these come from different places and can be made to compete on price.
“And both interoperability and an open market in services require free software in our sense. Otherwise lock-in will come, standards will become encrusted with proprietary extensions, and applications built on these will become proprietary and you will no longer be able to get the best service at the most aggressive price,” he said.
Diane Peters, the general counsel for the Open Source Development Labs, said that while she expected Moglen to provide the details around the revision of the GPL, the mechanics and time frame for this, her comments would focus on why it is critically important for those who care about the success of free and open-source software to constructively participate in the process and be committed to making it successful.
“In addition, I will speak to the risks associated with not supporting the process, and the remarkable opportunity it will provide for those who participate and dedicate themselves to its success,” she said.
Asked what she expected and wanted to see in GPL version 3, Peters said that from OSDLs perspective, there are two different aspects to the revisions.
The first relates to substantive changes in the rights and obligations that will be modified.
“As we all know, the growth and success of open source from a technological and business-model perspective has grown at a race and pace that could not have been anticipated when GPL 2.0 was first adopted,” she said.
“I anticipate those areas as being the ones in which many of the changes will be focused, and debate will ensure around issues such as Web services, trusted computing, source code distribution requirements, and patent termination provisions,” Peters said.
The other aspect that is equally important is clarifying language defining the rights and obligations that are not changing substantively, so as to eliminate ambiguities that result in uncertainty for businesses and developers.
“The challenge will be balancing the need for clarification with the FSFs stated objective of preserving the license as the literary work of [GPL creator] Richard Stallman,” she said.
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