Monday, February 5, 2007

GPLv3: Stallman’s “New Coke”

The storm over the Free Software Foundation’s proposed version 3 of the GPL has been brewing for several years, far longer than the 16 days this blog has been around. Driven by Richard Stallman’s desire to expand ““software freedom,”” the FSF’s proposed license changes have spawned various controversies over the anti-DRM clause, patent retaliation, license compatibility, and a more expansive definition of distribution. Even though the aggregation clause is an improvement, it retains deliberate ambiguities by avoiding standard legal terminology.

Most significantly, the new license has been criticized by Linus Torvalds and his lieutenants, mainly over the DRM issues. It is possible that Linux may not move to the new license, but instead accept patches only under a “GPL v2 or later” provision, since right now the leaders have absolute authority over what to accept. Certainly there is no requirement that existing GPLv2 packages switch to GPLv3; for example, MySQL has changed its terms so that it is not required to automatically update to the new license.

[Tux]It seems clear that the GPL needs Linux more than the other way around. IMHO, the tremendous mindshare of the GPL has been due to its adoption by Linux rather than the other way around. One of my favorite open source books, the autobiographical Just for Fun (pp 96-97) makes it clear that the then 22-year-old Finnish college student picked the GPL as an afterthought in 1992 when he needed to have some way to distribute his increasingly popular operating system.

Andrew Morton and 9 other kernel maintainers said it best:

The current version (Discussion Draft 2) of GPLv3 on first reading fails the necessity test of section 1 on the grounds that there's no substantial and identified problem with GPLv2 that it is trying to solve.
On Friday, Bill Weinberg (of the late OSDL) wrote a detailed column about the issues he has seen in 7 years as an embedded Linux advocate, including how FSF thinking got us to this point. His conclusion:
The FSF role will shrink to marginal proportions, and GPLv3 will become, sadly, just another license.
Sounds a lot like “New Coke” to me.

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