Tuesday, 17 January 2006

GPLv3 first draft launched @ MIT

I think the FSF has done a great job in preparing the first draft for GPLv3. "The FSF" here means Richard Stallman plus Eben Mogler, their lawyer.

The GPLv3 first draft was launched today 16 Jan 2006 here at MIT in Boston. It's the start of a nearly year-long process with at least one more coordinated draft (in late June) published before a final release, likely in November. Those are the likely dates; earlier and later dates are possible at least in theory.

Generally speaking, GPLv3 tries to address all important GPLv2 shortcomings. Judging from what I've seen and examined so far, it does quite a good job of it. Let's see where the discussions go.

Discussions now take place fully openly over the FSF GPLv3 website with those who represent special interest groups being invited by the FSF to four Discussion Groups.

  • Group A is major projects (e.g. Perl, Apache, Debian)

  • Group B is Big Business creating or embedding GPL software (e.g. IBM, Sun, HP, but also Trolltech, Red Hat, MySQL)

  • Group C is big users (e.g. government, enterprises)

  • Group D is individual hackers, other "leftovers" not fitting into other groups

Together with the Senior Counsel IP of Hewlett Packard, I got elected co-chair of Group B.

The draft and its rationale can be found at http://gplv3.fsf.org/draft and http://gplv3.fsf.org/rationale respectively.

GPLv3 attempts at solving several issues:

1. making it compatible with non-US law

  • using "propagation" instead of "distribution"

  • detaching language from US-specific statutory law

  • perhaps introducing official non-English translations

2. making it more compatible with other FOSS licenses

  • doing large parts of what the MySQL "FOSS Exception" does today

3. create options where none exist today

  • allow requiring GPLv3 users to make their server-side SW downloadable

  • enable patent retaliation against offensive patent holders

4. clarify the intention of preserving freedom in current gray areas

  • disable GPL SW use with Digital Rights/Restrictions Management

There is going to be some controversy in the GPLv3, but most of the work will be plenty of eye-balls attempting to find bugs in the wording of mostly non-controversial issues. As the patent retaliation and server-side download clauses are optional, they are not nearly as hot as the DRM incompatibility.

For most (practically all) GPL software, the license is written in such a way that the upgrade from GPLv2 to GPLv3 will happen automatically, without any actions needed (or even possible) by the developers. There is an auto-upgrade clause in GPLv2.

We do have to understand that there is a long process ahead of GPLv3 until it becomes reality. But the atmosphere of the day was a good one, with the attendees showing proper respect for RMS and Eben, for the process and for each other. The task at hand is not a power play but one of discovering and documenting argumentation, flaws, and logic towards FSF, who as benevolent dictator will decide what GPLv3 will be.

I'm looking forward to contributing to the GPLv3 process!

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