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GPLv2 vs. GPLv3 for beginners

Sep 28, 2007 — by LinuxDevices Staff — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 28 views

A research firm serving the mobile phone industry has published an 18-page whitepaper about open source licensing. Entitled “GPLv2 vs. GPLv3,” the paper examines the meteoric rise of open source software, and the forces that shaped each license, before concluding with an extremely detailed point-by-point comparison.

The paper was written by Liz Laffan, a senior VisionMobile analyst with an advanced degree in international political economy. Laffan examines each license not only according to face value, but also in light of the historical forces that shaped each, and how each is commonly interpreted.

Laffan starts with some background on the free and open source software community, and organizations such as the FSF and OSI that lead it. Next, she spends quite a bit of time looking at areas of ambiguity in GPLv2, and how interpretations have evolved during the licence's 16+ year history. The discussion includes mention of risks inherent in software licensing, such as patent and copyright litigation, and how the GPLv2 may or may not differ from other licenses in terms of such risks.

Next, Laffan looks at the process by which the GPLv3 was created, with a special focus on areas that proved contentious or controversial. Naturally, given VisionMobile's focus on device market research, embedded issues such as “Tivoization” are discussed in detail in this section.

The paper concludes with a look at which projects have converted to GPLv3, and which (like the Linux kernel), have so far stuck with GPLv2. Data from intellectual property management tools vendor Palamida is used to quantify conversion rates, with some surprising conclusions.

The remaining eight pages of the paper are devoted to appendices filled with excruciatingly detailed point-by-point analysis of GPLv2 and GPLv3 license differences, lists of new terms defined in the new GPLv3 license, and finally, lists of bibliographic material.

Download the whitepaper here:

GPLv2 vs. GPLv3: The two seminal open source licenses, their roots, consequences, and repercussions

(PDF download)

The whitepaper is copyright (c) 2007 VisionMobile Ltd. All rights reserved. Reproduced by with permission of the owner.

About the whitepaper's author: Liz Laffan is an Associate with marketing firm VisionMobile Ltd. She has over 15 years experience in the technology industry, particularly in areas such as outsourced technology management, technical due diligence, roadmap dissemination, and software specifications. Laffan holds a BA in Business Studies (Hons) and an MA in International Political Economy from Warwick University, with a specialization on Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights.

VisionMobile describes itself as “a market know-how firm delivering industry research and strategy consulting in the wireless sector. We offer in-depth intelligence and due-diligence on emerging wireless market sectors and first-generation technologies. Our domain expertise lies at the confluence of network operators, handset manufacturers and mobile solution vendors. VisionMobile's clients include tier-1 operators and OEMs, solution vendors and international analyst houses.”

This article was originally published on and has been donated to the open source community by QuinStreet Inc. Please visit for up-to-date news and articles about Linux and open source.

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