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."
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.
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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