Torvalds Passes on GPL 3.0

Linux creator wants kernel to remain under version 2.0

If enterprise customers were wondering how the third edition of the GNU General Public License would affect their plans for Linux, Linus Torvalds, the developer of the open-source software, may have given them an answer.

The answer: GPL 3.0 wont have an impact because the Linux operating system is staying under the previous version of the license. In a message to the Linux Kernel Mailing List on Jan. 25, Torvalds made it clear that the Linux operating system is going to stay under GPL 2.0 and not migrate to GPL 3.0.

Torvalds announced this in response to a discussion on the list of Linux developers, which was started by Jeff Merkey, the former Novell and Canopy Group developer. Merkey is best known in Linux circles for his attempt to buy a non-GPL version of the Linux code. "The Linux kernel has always been under the GPLv2. Nothing else has ever been valid," said Torvalds.

In response to the discussion that followed, Alan Cox, the lead maintainer of the production version of Linux, said, "What finally happens is going to depend almost entirely on whether the GPLv3 is a sane license or not and on consensus, and it is way too early to figure that out."

Torvalds comments cast some uncertainty on the draft of GPL 3.0, which was released Jan. 16 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The draft addresses the issues of patents and patent-related retaliation, as well as its compatibility with other licenses. The draft also raised a few eyebrows by calling digital rights management "a malicious feature."

In his message, Torvalds explained that some of the confusion has come about because people confuse some of the GPLs explanatory text with the license itself. "The Version 2 of the License, or (at your option) any later version language in the GPL copying file is not—and has never been—part of the actual license itself. Its part of the explanatory text that talks about how to apply the license to your program, and it says that if you want to accept any later versions of the GPL, you can state so in your source code," he said.

Torvalds went on, "The Linux kernel has never stated that in general. Some authors have chosen to use the suggested FSF [Free Software Foundation] boilerplate [including the any later version language], but the kernel in general never has."

Torvalds then clearly spelled out his position: "The Linux kernel is under the GPL Version 2. Not anything else. Some individual files are licensable under v3, but not the kernel in general." It is a mistake, he said, to "think v2 or later is the default. Its not. The default is to not allow conversion."

Torvalds added, "I dont think the GPLv3 conversion is going to happen for the kernel, since I personally dont want to convert any of my code." Or, in fact, "Conversion isnt going to happen," he said.