May 23, 2007 10:37 AM PDT

Eben Moglen predicts broad embrace of GPL 3

SAN FRANCISCO--Eben Moglen, the law professor and open-source legal expert who has helped lead the revision of the General Public License, is predicting broad success for the upcoming new version.

"I predict that within the first year of adoption of GPL 3 there will be a net uptake by parties currently not using GPL that will be great in magnitude," Moglen told an audience here Tuesday at the Open Source Business Conference. That uptake will include "dozens of commercially important projects capable of choosing any license they want where they today use licenses that don't call for hard copyleft."

Copyleft, a term coined by Free Software Foundation founder Richard Stallman, refers to a key requirement of the GPL that an individual or organization that changes and distributes software must make those changes public. Some more "permissive" open-source licenses such as the Apache License permit changes to be kept secret and open-source software to be tightly incorporated into proprietary software.

Moglen is overseeing a contentious process of revamping the GPL, the most widely used license in the free and open-source software realm. Moglen, a Columbia law school professor and former IBM programmer, is stepping down as counsel to the FSF, but he remains active in another group called the Software Freedom Law Center.

Early drafts of GPL 3 triggered significant objections from several parties, including Linus Torvalds, leader of the GPL-covered Linux kernel. But the third and most recent draft of GPL 3 met with fewer gripes, and Moglen was bullish about its prospects.

Eben Moglen
Credit: Columbia
Law School
Eben Moglen

"We're four weeks from finished now, and we have consensus on large, important major changes," Moglen said. "Everybody is equally browned off, and that is how it should be, but we're all finishing together."

Drafting the new GPL, like writing open-source software, is a collective exercise in which numerous parties depend on one another, he said. "Everybody is so heavily embarked in everybody else's boats, and the consequences of failure are so far-reaching, people have no choice but to share their ideas and seek compromise and coexistence," Moglen said.

The GPL has the power to enable open-source software to dethrone Microsoft from its position of dominance, Moglen said. "The time is rapidly approaching when the GPL is capable of leveling the monopolist to the ground," he said.

Microsoft, with its packaged, proprietary software, has wiped out profit margins for hardware and services, he said. "The tax imposed by software was so high," he said. "Nobody has ever successfully calculated the harm done by Microsoft to the world. The number is too vast."

One provision Stallman considered but rejected for GPL 3 was some mechanism to deal with modifications to GPL software available as a network service. Under GPL 2, an entity that modifies the software but doesn't distribute it need not publish the changes, and that will continue under GPL 3, even if that software is available over the Internet through mechanisms today called application service providers or software as a service.

"The rights of a person who receives a service are different from the rights of a person who receives software as a program object," Moglen said.

Google in particular widely uses open-source software internally for services available publicly. It makes some open-source software changes publicly available, such as its modifications to the MySQL database. The free and open-source movement will apply other pressures to make sure such companies don't abuse the privilege, Moglen said.

"If you want to protect your business model, you must be model citizens of the environment. If you shrink, political pressure will grow to constrain your rights to secure the rights of everyone else," Moglen said. "Upon the behavior of Google much depends."

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GPL 3, GPL, open-source software, Richard Stallman, Free Software Foundation


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Moglen MS knock tiring
Moglen's quote about MS harm is junk. Most of the world is on the Internet because of Microsoft and its offerings. Calculate those benefits, Eben - or, are they too vast?
Posted by mwendy (64 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Disconnected With History
You must be young or a paid MS shill. The fact is what brought people to the Internet was the Internet browser and the free and open content. When the internet was becoming king over AOl and all the past BBS type information services it was Netscape that was making it easy for people to access the web. MS was focused on their OS until it was almost too late. Then they embraced the Internet and destroyed Netscape. MS is a monopoly that needs to be broken.
Posted by sabot96 (24 comments )
Link Flag
Microsoft, the most regressive force in IT
Most of the world has bad habits of one sort of another. How is that fact any endorsement of the bad habits? Recall the ugly findings of fact--which withstood every appeal--about Microsoft from their anti-trust trial.

Now, with Microsoft making so much noise about suing others over patents that will never be specified, any claims about how Microsoft benefits the world look not just groundless but ridiculous.

Indeed, Moglen _understates_ what Microsoft is. They are no mere monopoly but were found to be an illegal one. It's no surprise at all to hear about, for example, the trouble that the EU has time and again with Microsoft. Crying over Microsoft sounds just like when certain Luddites cry over how great it was during the AT&T monopoly--ridiculous.
Posted by b3timmons (6 comments )
Link Flag
Designed for ensnarement
Although more recent drafts seem to be getting slightly better, it's clear that the GPL3 is designed to ensnare commercial software makers wherever possible.

Basically, if you go anywhere near the GPL3, or touch software that is licensed under it, there is a good chance you will be subject to provisions to which you didn't intend to put yourself under.

Mr. Moglen seems to think that a license can "level the monopolist". Is that the motive? Seems to me that writing better software is a more progressive approach to beating the incumbent.
Posted by ORinSF (57 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Designed for freedom
The GPL has always been about freedom*. Even if you are unconvinced about this freedom, it is easy enough to at least learn what the specific four freedoms are:
<a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>

The GPL3 simply tries to restore some of the protection for these freedoms that have been lost from attacks on the GPL2. The GPL3 will be the license of choice for all of those who want the most effective means of promoting those freedoms.

Naturally, anyone promoting nonfree software will be skeptical, and given the huge investment in that legacy business model, it is not surprising to see all manner of attempts to disparage the GPL3. That Microsoft leads the disparagement tells prospective free software developers all they need to want to learn more about what the GPL3 can do for them.

(*): "Leveling the monopolist" is not quite a motive; it's a side effect. More generally, spreading freedom tends to threaten illegitimate power built from ill-gotten gain, e.g., Microsoft.
Posted by b3timmons (6 comments )
Link Flag
Don't like the GPL? Don't use GPL software. Easy.
When you say "commercial" software, you really mean proprietary, non-free software. Plenty of people are making money with Free Software completely abiding by the terms of the GPL.

Furthermore, this "snare" comment is dumb.

If you make proprietary software, that's your right. You don't have to go anywhere near the big, scary GPL. Write all of the non-free, proprietary software you want!

What you *can't* do is take our communities' GPL'ed Free Software and incorporate it into your non-free program. It's that simple. There is no "snare".

Don't like the GPL, fine. Don't use it.
Posted by mw13068 (16 comments )
Link Flag
Rather pay MS
I would rather give money to Microsoft than listen to this shifty socialists trying to redefine free markets.

People, given a choice, use MS products by far higher numbers than anything else. Why use Windows when Linux is free? Here are some reasons:
<a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>
Posted by ejryder3 (39 comments )
Reply Link Flag
People are not given a choice
By and large, people are not given a choice. Go computer shopping
at a store (like most people do) and show me the choice. It's not
there. Every machine is running Microsoft Windows.

Put Linux computers in those same stores and discount them to
reflect the lack of MS Windows, and then people will have a choice.
Posted by chabig83 (535 comments )
Link Flag
Why oh why does every person who wants to attack
FOSS choose the term socialist to describe them?
The fact is, this is not socialist, that is a
political ideal. FOSS is a way to produce
quality software. Also, free markets mean
everything has an equal chance. Is that very
apparent here?
Posted by ben::zen (127 comments )
Link Flag
Your idea of what a "Free Market" is is busted.
You think the current state of the software industry is a "Free Market"? Are you smoking crack?

Free Software creates a free market situation far better than *any* proprietary software can. With Free Software, users have choices of distributions, and support. They can choose whomever will provide the best software and services available.

If you need a change made to Internet Explorer, how many companies can you call to get that change made?

You have no idea what a Free Market is.
Posted by mw13068 (16 comments )
Link Flag
better never would have existed Ms
Some time ago I wrote;
Finally, I want to talk about a very important point and forgotten one , really are we conscientious of the enormous harm done by Ms? , With their policy to becoming rich at absurd levels (just have a look at Bill Gate's wallet) has been able to widen the breach between poor people (who could not buy the software) and the other people (that bought it), between the rich countries and the poor countries and it is because software (not everything) is NOT LUXURY, THAT IS the DIFFERENCE WHETHER YOUR SON CAN OR CANNOT OBTAIN a GOOD LEVEL of education. it is in essence, my friend, EDUCATION, and the people as Bill Gate and his gang apparently do not understand it.

All this not having in mind other kinds of Social Cost, such as Moral cost (many times we forgive piracy as they are the last and only mean many poor people have to access to education itself, regardless of the fact piracy is highly negative in itself). We could carry on widening this topic but just leave it.
I am glad there is more other people out there aware of this fact. If we weight the technological advance reached through Microsoft and the cost over society it is very likely we end up concluding better never would have existed Ms.
Posted by m7sang7 (8 comments )
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