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GPLv3 draft moves forward, Torvalds unimpressed

Jul 27, 2006 — by LinuxDevices Staff — from the LinuxDevices Archive — views

On July 27, the FSF (Free Software Foundation) and the SFLC (Software Freedom Law Center) released the next discussion draft of the GNU GPL (General Public License) version 3. In addition, the groups released the first draft of the revised GNU LGPL (Lesser General Public License) version 3.

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Since the release of the initial GPLv3 discussion draft in January, members of the free software community have submitted nearly one thousand suggestions for its improvement. With the help of discussion committees, the FSF and the SFLC have taken these comments into consideration and have implemented revisions to the draft.

“We have considered each suggestion with care,” said Eben Moglen, the SFLC's founder and chairman. The SFLC represents various free software projects and is assisting the FSF in revising the new license. “By listening to people from around the world, we are working toward a license that acts consistently in many different legal systems and in a variety of situations.”

Thus, the new draft includes many changes to make it more compatible with non-U.S. copyright law. In addition, this draft explicitly makes clear that companies can offer commercial support for GPLed software.

Among the changes in this new draft are that the license only directly restricts DRM (digital rights management) in the special case in which it is used to prevent people from sharing or modifying GPLv3-covered software. According to the FSF, the clarified DRM section preserves the spirit of the original GPL, which forbids adding additional restrictions to free software. In short, GPLv3 doesn't prohibit the implementation of DRM features, but prevents them from being imposed on users in a way that they cannot remove.

Other significant revisions in the new draft include a reworked license compatibility section, and provisions that specifically allow GPL-covered programs to be distributed on peer-to-peer file sharing networks like BitTorrent networks.

The latest draft also makes clearer what is meant by “keys” and “code signing.” This is especially important, since Linus Torvalds strongly objected to these issues. Whether Linus, and the rest of the Linux community, will adopt GPLv3 for Linux remains an open question.

Torvalds, after looking at the draft, wasn't impressed.

“Nothing fundamental seems to have really changed,” said Torvalds,”so GPLv3 is pretty much irrelevant for the kernel. Other projects, that don't have the 'v2 only' limitation, will be more impacted.”

Thus, with Torvalds opposition, it seems unlikely that the Linux kernel will be switched to GPLv3.

The text of the new GPL and LGPL drafts can be found on the FSF's website, here. The site also includes audio commentary from Moglen; a rationale document that describes the new draft's changes; and further information about the GPLv3 revision process. As with the first draft, community members can submit comments on the site.

There will also continue to be international GPLv3 discussion conferences, including one next month in Bangalore, India.

A third discussion draft of GPLv3 is expected to be released this fall. “Last November, we published a document which outlined the process for drafting the new GPL,” said Moglen, “As of now, we are still on schedule for a final release in early 2007.”

“The primary purpose of the GNU GPL is to preserve users' freedom to use, share, and modify free software,” said Richard Stallman, founder of FSF and original author of the GPL. “We depend on public review to make the GPL do this job reliably.”

by Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols editor,

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