January 26, 2006 9:20 AM PST

Torvalds: No GPL 3 for Linux

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In a 2004 interview, Torvalds indicated he wants the GPL to serve nothing beyond the single function of keeping source code open.

"I really want a license to do just two things: Make the code available to others, and make sure that improvements stay that way. That's really it. Nothing more, nothing less. Everything else is fluff."

"I really want a license to do just two things: Make the code available to others, and make sure that improvements stay that way."
--Linus Torvalds, founder, Linux

Because of that cautious stance, Torvalds specifically didn't follow with Linux the Free Software Foundation's recommendation to describe a software project as governed by version 2 or "any later version."

The issue of moving to GPL 3 is grounded in copyrights. Many open-source projects, such as MySQL or OpenSolaris, require that programmers turn over copyrights to a central organization. That organization then grants the programmers a license of their own to the software source code in question. But with Linux, the copyrights are held by a large number of individuals and companies that contributed the code.

To convert Linux to GPL 3, it's likely more than just Torvalds' approval would be required. For example, when the SpamAssassin project converted to the Apache License so it could become part of the Apache Software Foundation, project organizers spent months getting explicit permission for the change from about 100 copyright holders. Even then, not all contributors could be found, and some software had to be rewritten.

The Free Software Foundation also has lodged objections about Torvalds. In an interview after the GPL 3 draft was released, Moglen said Torvalds doesn't use a "pure GPL" and that practices such as permitting proprietary video drivers violate the license.

Missing out
Keeping Linux with GPL 2 means the project won't be able to take advantage of some changes. And some experts believe GPL 3 is better.

"I think it's a definite improvement. It clarifies where there is ambiguity and deals with issues that have come up over time," said Mark Radcliffe, an intellectual property attorney with DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary who represents the Open Source Initiative and who is overseeing some gathering of commentary for the GPL 3.

Regarding rights management, Radcliffe said Stallman "views DRM as potentially evil. He wants to make it very clear that DRM is not permitted, and you cannot implement DRM systems using GPL code."

But Radcliffe also believes those fears could be overstated, judging by the commercial failures of attempts to control software in the past--such as with hardware "dongles" that must be attached to a computer before a particular program will run. "The practical risk of it being applied to software is lower than it being applied to content," he said.

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21 comments

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A License Nobody will Use?
Bravo for Linus... even if his decision may be based partially on laziness:

"I don't think the GPL v3 conversion is going to happen for the kernel, since I personally don't want to convert any of my code."

Apparently, Linus will allow DRM technology to be implemented in the Kernel... hmmmm... That pretty much runs roughshot around any software based on GPL 3 that runs on Linux... Sounds like more splintering and a rift between Linus and Stallman...

A united front would be so much more successful.
Posted by David Arbogast (1709 comments )
Reply Link Flag
There's more
He commented on releasing his keys, there's something in the GPL 3 he sees as a threat that would force him to make public some keys he has that are private right now. That may be the basis for his objections.
Posted by aabcdefghij987654321 (1721 comments )
Link Flag
Laziness?
No one said he's lazy.
He simply realizes that adopting an even more Communist license would repel potential users, mainly corporations.
Thumbs up
Posted by booboo1243 (328 comments )
Reply Link Flag
lazy communists...
How does a license that helps promote rights and freedoms come to be classified as Communist? Because its free and cannot be owned? Oh, please, the air must be communist as well.

I think its more of a concern for his personal information (notice how he said, "I don't want to publish my keys"? (or something like that)).

I agree that things would move better with a united front, and the next year may see some large changes in the GPLv3, or it may not. Either way, its still GPL, which can be used with non-GPL software, so I would imagine that GPLv2 with GPLv3 is OK.

But I am not a lawyer, and I've only read parts of GLPv3. Someone correct me if I am off..
Posted by lefty.crupps (25 comments )
Link Flag
I'm sure
it will somehow get worked out, there's still at least a year of revision and discussions before anything really happens.
Posted by chuchucuhi (233 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I doubt it
Linus and Stallman's ideologies seem fundamentally opposed here. Linus wants to make a product people will use and appears to have fun doing it. Stallman wants everyone else to think like him and lock out anyone who thinks differently.

My guess is GPLv3 will cause a bunch of projects to fork and have two versions to maintain for awhile, at which point the GPLv3 forks will die a quiet death.

GPLv3 seems like just plain a bad idea.
Posted by samkass (310 comments )
Link Flag
I don't really....
I don't really see what the point is in having DRM in the kernel. After all, you can strip the DRM code and then recompile the kernel. So what's the point?
Posted by Maelstorm (130 comments )
Reply Link Flag
this won't be implemented
No corporate environment would implement an operating system without security... which is what GPL v.3 effectively is requiring. Not going to happen. Linus isn't stupid enough to endorse something he knows full well will mark the end of linux. But lets face - even if he did endorse the license... he's like the queen; he doesn't matter that much. Red Hat, Suse, IBM, the big boys would never go for this. Pinkos like the FSF need to wake up and put that MIT education to better use.
Posted by mortis9 (370 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Programming is Like Art
Some people do it solely for the love of the art and challenge---and value being paid for their work far less than having their work distributed. This includes the FSF and virtually all open source programmers.

Other people love the art but care more about getting paid for what they do than having their work distributed. This includes most people who program for a living.

I feel any rational software license should accomodate both facets of the programming community and allow the users who develop the software to choose their priorities.

Of course, there are many open source licenses to choose from. Perhaps a good idea is a repository of all known open source licenses with plain English descriptions of what they mean. I feel that would allow users who wish to create an open source project to choose the best license for their needs.
Posted by bluemist9999 (1020 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Linus Torvalds, creator and killer of Linux..?
Microsoft must REALLY be celebrating this. Why would Linus abandon the single greatest quality which makes "Linux" a competitive threat to "MS-Windows"?

The open-source nature of Linux, is what makes it different enough from Windows to give it any real chance at traction in a market where, 90-percent-plus computers are absolutely dominated by one companys proprietary-control...

What makes "Linux" attractive..?

"Thousands of eyes"... being able to view the code, find "bugs", expand functionality, and increase efficiency...

The ability to add and remove functionality, based solely upon the needs of the computer-user...

The power to control, and TRUST, your computer to obey only you, ...not the whims of any third-party.

Market-competition creating choice...

These features, along with a demonstrated robustness and security clearly lacking in many Microsoft-products, are dependant on the truly "Open-Source" nature of Linux.

"DRM" is incompatible with that model and its benefits. "DRM" is dependant on "closed" modules. "DRM" is almost always dependant on proprietary-technologies. Its only design-characteristic is to impose external-controls on all use of a technology. And, "DRM" does NOT provide any "security", or benefits, to anyone, ...other than the "DRMed content" owners. In fact, "DRM" fundamentally eliminates the very concept of "consumer rights". That is why consumers, technologists, business-analysts, and now even entire nations, have all begun to come out against "DRM".

Furthermore, once Linux contains such "closed", "proprietary" code-modules, it will no longer be anything other than, ...just another Operating System. Linux will be the OS with 2-percent market-share. ...The OS that isnt "Microsoft Windows". And, an OS without "user control", or true OPENNESS at the core of its purpose.

In short, the most compelling reason to use Linux, will be effectively muted.

Some have said that Linus is just being "pragmatic", and adopting basic "commercial realities". However, based upon the fact that this decision would, seemingly cut the very throat of Linux (or at least hopelessly shatter it on the anvil of philosophical-dissent), I would ask Linus to examine those that most support this move. If he does, he will clearly see that most of these entities are NOT friends of Linux. They are not even objective observers. They tend to be those with a rabid stake in promoting both "DRM" and the demise of "...the Linux problem" in the commercial-environment.

I understand that the original purpose of Linux was simply to have "UNIX" on a PC. And, I understand that Linus wishes to make Linux a viable commercial proposition. But, adopting "DRM" as a fundamental-component of Linux, would do nothing but effectively kill one of the most amazing phenomena in the personal-computer world, ...since the invention of the personal-computer, itself.

I would really rather not remember Linus Torvalds, as the creator of the only Operating System that ever, ALMOST, prevented the wholesale absorption of the entire computer-industry, by one, consumer-HOSTILE, business-culture.

Linux deserves more than just a footnote in computer history.
Posted by Gayle Edwards (262 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Non sequitur
Linux just continues to be under GPL v2. That has worked for Linux for 15 years.
There is no need to fear that Linux will turn into a closed OS.
Posted by JoeF2 (1306 comments )
Link Flag
For practical purposes we already have the mix
Most of the commercial/enterprise implementations of Linux have some proprietary bundled with them. So, the chances are that for most people they already have a mix of true Open Source and Closed Source code on their systems. From the article (and this is all I’m going by) GPLv3 will restrict this practise. Which I expect will set the whole Linux world back a couple of years. There is an interesting article (somewhere on the web) about the fact that even though OpenOffice is Open Source most of the coding is paid for by Sun. If the commercial supporters of Linux and Open Source cannot see a way to make money they will pull these paid programmers from the project. We’ll be back to programs with titles like ftLRSp that only the program knows how to make the best use of and the rest of us are left scratching our heads.

Linux is working because it has commercial support. GPLv3 will affect this support and so will stifle it.
Posted by ahickey (177 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Linus is confused!
Linus is mixing freedom / ethical issues with privacy. GPL V3 only opposes DRM, not privacy.
Posted by anandbabu (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Ethical?
I don't like how Stallman goals are said to be " explicitly ethical and social..."

While I appreciate that Stallman feels only free software is ethical, that's not the view of the whole world. And the implication is that if you do things contrary to Stallman's way, you are acting unethically.

This may seem a nit, but we owe it to ourselves to be accurate in our discussions abou these matters.
Posted by uslacker (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Alternate interpretation
I see the confusion. This statement is a bit unclear, but I don't think the author is passing judgement on Stallman's goals, but rather is characterizing them. That is, Stallman's goals are simply that software should meet a particular ethical standard. Not that that standard is MORE ethical than another; that is up for judgement. It's simply that Stallman has one ethical standard which he believes should be met and meeting that ethical standard is his justification for particular development practices. This is in contrast to Torvalds's goals which might include an ethical standard, but are more focused on a standard of development practices aimed at increased efficiency and quality. Torvalds doesn't necessarily believe in the software practices he promotes because he thinks they are more ethical. He thinks they produce better software.
Posted by someguy389 (102 comments )
Link Flag
Reinventing the wheel...
I'm no expert in either Linux or the GPL, so correct me if I'm
wrong, but aren't a large number of components within Linux
under a "GPL 2.0 or later" license. I'm thinking particularely of
the GCC compiler, but I'm sure there are others. Such a license
would automatically place them under GPL 3.0. Thus, Linux may
remain under GPL 2, but some of its primary means of
functionality would be under GPL 3.

If I'm correct, that would either 1) kill Linux, or 2) force Torvald
to rewrite some of the most important software simply to hold
the copyright to it and be able to place it under GPL 2. He'd have
to reinvent the wheel.
Posted by No_Man (77 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Reall issues
I wish these people would put such effort, money and commitment into real world issues if they want to bandy about words like fair and ethical and moral. How about world hunger? Disease? Nothing ethical or moral in software development that I can see. Especially since most free software developers make a living from proprietary software companies.
Posted by mitiori (8 comments )
Reply Link Flag
GPL
It would seem like the BSD model has less issues... license wise
and more of an upside profit wise. Profit and money arent
everything, but often they are 9/10.

Laywers are never cheap ... even the cheap ones can cost you a
bunch.

It is interesting to look back at this - this is a big issue as it
could easily affect however one does everything in the next 15
years or so ...

What is more interesting is that if Vista fails ... say in a similar
way to how Mellienium failed (though I know they are completely
different OS's from Micrsoft ...) it might just be because of DRM.
MS seems to have locked Vista down so hard, its choking itself.

It would be nice if Linux were an OS for the masses... better
than Windows in every way and even as good as Mac OS.

I doubt MS would ever code for Linux, unless its to take the code
and move it to their closed system (yeah, I'm sure they would
break the law, they have the lawyers to unleash if need).

So why didnt we have the balls to break up Micosoft? O yeah, to
many panty wasts had faith in the 'market'.
Posted by dr_x1 (11 comments )
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