January 16, 2006 11:30 AM PST

Public debate on GPL 3 draft begins

The Free Software Foundation on Monday released the first public discussion draft of the General Public License version 3, shedding light on proposed reforms to the document's patent and digital rights management provisions.

The GPL version 3 draft can be downloaded from the FSF's Web site, which also includes an explanation of the changes and an online commentary section. The revised GPL is the subject of a conference this week at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The foundation is revising the GPL for the first time in 15 years, and this time the organization is accepting suggestions from the broad base of people and organizations now involved in the free software and open-source software movements. Over the last decade and a half, the GPL grew from an academic curiosity created by programmer and FSF founder Richard Stallman into a critical foundation of much of the software realm.

The GPL governs countless open-source projects, including the Linux kernel, the Samba file server software and the MySQL database. "It's tremendously important," Tom Carey, an intellectual property attorney at Boston-based Bromberg & Sunstein, said in an earlier interview. "Probably most lawyers who have an active practice in the software area have read the GPL and committed its essence to memory, which is something you can't say about any other license."

The proposed GPL revisions include expected changes in several areas:

• Provisions to make sure digital rights management mechanisms don't curtail software freedoms;

• An explicit grant of patent rights by anyone redistributing GPL-governed software;

• A retaliation clause that prohibits an organization from using privately modified GPL software if it files a patent infringement lawsuit relating to that software;

• And new terms describing how copyright holders may add additional licensing terms, such as more-severe patent retaliation provisions, to GPL software.

Regarding the new patent provisions, Aberdeen Group analyst Stacey Quandt said, "GPL 3 is an improvement over its predecessor." But she also predicted the issue "will likely spark debate." In addition, in the GPL 3 draft, it's "not necessarily clear what constitutes a derivative work," a central concept that describes modified versions of a program, she said.

The FSF hopes to complete GPL version 3 by Jan. 15, 2007, but is giving itself until March 2007. A second discussion draft is planned to be released June, with a possible third in October.

GPL-governed software is widely used in the technology industry. However, there are many other open-source licenses in use. Sun Microsystems, for example, is touting its Community Development and Distribution License as an alternative.

8 comments

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Yikes...
This sounds like an all-out assault on DRM and software patents. I hope the GPL crowd doesn't license themselves into oblivion.
Posted by samkass (310 comments )
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Explain...?
--A retaliation clause that prohibits an organization from using privately modified GPL software if it files a patent infringement lawsuit relating to that software.--

Excuse me? Can somebody explain this? If I am using GPL software... and I modify it within the terms of the GPL I should be fine.

But if somebody has stolen some of my patented code and incorporated it into GPL software, then I must choose between giving up usage of the GPL software and enforcing my patent rights?

Am I understanding this correctly? You can only defend yourself against stolen patents if you agree not to use the GPL software that violates your rights? Hmmmmmmm....
Posted by David Arbogast (1709 comments )
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I think you did misinterpret that.
What I beleive was meant, if you create an application, based on GNU-GPL code, patent it, then start filing patent infringement suits against everyone using that same gpl code then you have forfeited the priviledge of using that code.

The base premise of the GNU-GPL is to protect open source software, keeping it open source. The side benefit is that this protection extends to those using it.
Posted by Jaqui_Greenlees (8 comments )
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not really
something you have to get straight, a methiod of doing something is pantented. Software code written to accomplish the method is copyrighted.

It has nothing to do with pilfered/copied code, which is copyright infringement and everything to do with parallel development of the same method.

So basically if the method you own is not free then you may not use free code either.
Posted by R Me (196 comments )
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A deal like any other
"But if somebody has stolen some of my patented code and incorporated it into GPL software, then I must choose between giving up usage of the GPL software and enforcing my patent rights?"

It's a deal like any other - I'll license you my copyright code if you license me your patents. If you want to call the deal off, then you have to call off both halves.
Posted by jiri_baum (4 comments )
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I like it so far
Yes allot more clear and I like the part about original authors intent or 'reputation' protected so there remains a privacy explanation so as not to think this is a totally 'public' license. It just protects the public's rights once the item is recieved but the creation remains private. Also I like the explanation of 'Object Code' which is code that is not intended for distibution and completley private to the author.

Also the DRMers have 'stolen' this software and used it for their own purposes to lock in consumers. if people want to use Open Source code they have to play buy the rules.
I like the geographical explanations
Privacy Invasion maybe needs more expounding like explanation of 'Rootkits' and 'Personal Informaiton Gathering.'
Posted by Blito (436 comments )
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