December 23, 2004 4:00 AM PST

Sprucing up open source's GPL foundation

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software under the GPL to be unhappy with the changes."

Changes aren't going to happen anytime soon, though. "We're nowhere near ready to have anything to show people anything yet. We know what we'd like to do, but how to do it is not clear," Stallman said. Only when he's good and ready will he begin seeking comments on a draft.


 Richard Stallman

Stallman wrote the GPL in the 1980s as part of his Gnu's Not Unix, or GNU, project to create a clone of the operating system unfettered by Unix's proprietary constraints--thus the term "free software" and the Free Software Foundation that Stallman established to promote it.

According to Freshmeat, which calls itself "the Web's largest index of Unix and cross-platform software," there are more than 19,000 GPL-covered software projects, and the GPL governs 68 percent of projects in the Freshmeat index.

The most prominent GPL project is Linux, the kernel of an operating system that will underlie a $35.7 billion business in 2008, according to a forecast by market researcher IDC. Among others: the MySQL database, the netfilter/iptables protective firewall and the Samba file-sharing software.

But programmers have other choices if they're not happy with the GPL. Other licenses cover the Mozilla project, which helped launch the open-source movement in 1998, and the widely used Apache server software. And Sun Microsystems is testing its Community Development and Distribution License, which likely will be used to govern its Solaris version of Unix.

The patent problem
Patents are one reason Sun chose the license it did. How the GPL deals with that thorny legal area is the issue more than a dozen experts raised most often in discussions for this story.

The patent problems boil down to two issues. First, should the license explicitly require those who distribute GPL software to grant others unhindered use of whatever patented technology is involved in that software? And second, should there be some form of punishment for those who file lawsuits alleging that GPL software infringes their patents?

These issues are under discussion for the next version of the GPL. "It may possibly help protect our community from pirates armed with patents," said Stallman, an outspoken critic of the overall idea of software patents.

One interpretation of the current GPL is that patent holders who distribute GPL software "are in effect granting an implied license" to those patents, said Mark Webbink, the lead intellectual-property attorney for Linux seller Red Hat and a person who first saw revised GPL drafts in 2000. But it might be useful to have an explicitly expressed patent agreement, he said. "A distributor may not want to leave that ambiguous as to what rights they are giving."

Frank Bernstein, an attorney with Sughrue Mion, suggests Stallman look for inspiration to Apple Computer's Apple Public Source License and the Common Public License IBM often uses. Both grant a license to use patents covering the software, and when it comes to organizations that sue for patent infringement, both licenses terminate their rights to use and distribute the software.

Bernstein said addressing patents could make the GPL more palatable among corporations--users that have become major contributors to, and customers of, open-source software.

But some would like to see the GPL be more of a political tool to

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The GPL is not viral
Statements from Microsoft about the GPL being viral stem either from a misunderstanding that the GPL is just a license, not a contract, or perhaps from a deliberate desire to misrepresent the GPL (in order to promote fear, uncertainty, and doubt). A very good commentary on the nature of the GPL can be found here:

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.groklaw.net/article.php?story=20031214210634851" target="_newWindow">http://www.groklaw.net/article.php?story=20031214210634851</a>

The summary is as follows:

If someone uses GPLed code in their proprietary code and then distributes either the source or the binary (compiled from that code) without complying with the provisions of the GPL, they are in violation of the copyright of the GPLed software (since they don't have any permission to distribute GPLed code apart from the GPL). At no point would the owner of the proprietary code be forced to release their own work under the GPL (or any other license), though they could *choose* to do so in order to avoid a Copyright-infringement lawsuit.
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
but..
to avoid copyright lawsuit they release under gpl.
that is forcing it.

personally, I will not release under as restrictive a license as the gnu-gpl.
I'll use the bsd license.
far less restrictive.
Posted by (2 comments )
Link Flag
License with room to change...
Inside the GPL is the stipulation that the code covered under the GPL may be distributed under that current version or any future versions of the GPL.

This single power gives the GPL a license to change, and offers unforseeable protections, opportunities and reward for those using code covered by any version of the GPL.

No other license in mainstream use allows the anyone to distribute code with a freedom of choice over licenses in this manner.
Posted by zaznet (1138 comments )
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Explanation of how GPL is Viral (in Microsofts point of view)
The following is taken directly from the GNU Lesser General Public License Version 2.1. It is a slightly different version of the GPL, and governs software libraries intended not to be stand alone programs as such, but embeded with other software. This is where you can use one program to access another, such as DLL files in Windows. This demonstrates how Microsoft could use a GPL licensed .DLL within their popular Windows Operating System without having to release Windows as GPL'd code.

"These requirements apply to the modified work as a whole. If identifiable sections of that work are not derived from the Library, and can be reasonably considered independent and separate works in themselves, then this License, and its terms, do not apply to those sections when you distribute them as separate works."

The only way that the Microsoft code could become GPL licensed is if they re-write the DLL and then that DLL's code would be GPL. This would mean Microsoft would have to use code derived from copyrighted code, and that's theft and copyright infringement. So a claim of "virul nature" could only mean Microsoft wants to copy GPL code as it's own.
Posted by zaznet (1138 comments )
Reply Link Flag
but
that is microsofts standard business practice.
steal code from other sources and distribute as thier own...
started with dos, then windows 1.0 then windows 95.
even windows nt is microsofts corrupted stolen version of unix.

ms office is stolen from wordperfect office suite.
Posted by (2 comments )
Link Flag
What Version GPL?
An important question this article does not seem to answer is "What version of the GPL will code be covered by?"

The short answer is that code is covered by the version specified with the covered software or any future version at the licensees choice. The licensee being the person provided with a license to copy, modify and distribute the code.

This is one of the most important and least emphasised portions of the GPL. It is a license to change the license at YOUR choosing. So when GPL 3.0 comes out, all previously covered GPL code is now also available under the new version of the license.

Here is the section verbatim from the GPL 2.0 -

"Each version is given a distinguishing version number. If the Program specifies a version number of this License which applies to it and "any later version", you have the option of following the terms and conditions either of that version or of any later version published by the Free Software Foundation. If the Program does not specify a version number of this License, you may choose any version ever published by the Free Software Foundation."
Posted by zaznet (1138 comments )
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Protecting sound patent policy by opposing software patents....
This article included a statement from Linux seller Novell saying "Intellectual-property protection and open source can work hand in hand and are not mutually inconsistent". The context in the article suggested that this was a middle-ground that is different from those of us that oppose information/mental process patents (AKA: software patents).

I believe that this confuses PCT (Patent, Copyright, Trademark and related rights) protection with a very narrow political agenda known as the "maximalist agenda". This ideology suggests that "if some PCT is good, then more is better".

The reality is that PCTs are to creativity and innovation like water is to humans: too little and you dehydrate and die, and too much and you drown and die.

Believing that pouring water on a drowning person is good for that persons health is about as logical as suggesting that the maximalist ideology is a promotion of the public policy goals of patents.


Russell McOrmond

Information/mental process patents <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.digital-copyright.ca/taxonomy/page/or/360" target="_newWindow">http://www.digital-copyright.ca/taxonomy/page/or/360</a>
Posted by Russell McOrmond (63 comments )
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