Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Third Draft of GPLv3

Today the FSF released the third draft of GPLv3 but not the final license. It is significantly different than the second draft and the FSF is planning a 60-day comment period. As with all of the drafts we've seen, people will need time to review and react to it. It is clear from the changes that the FSF has responded to the feedback provided by various companies and the public.
What this process has shown is that it's not wise to speculate about what might be in the license, given that much could happen between now and when the final license is published. This is a process that involves many parties and many opinions. It is clear that those who have participated to date have had a great deal of influence on the changes made in this draft. The FSF has moved considerably on a number of key issues, like patent issues and DRM. That said, we'll have to wait to hear from those that were most concerned about those issues to see if the changes are enough to generate support for the license in this form.
The changes between drafts two and three show that:
  • The significant license language regarding digital rights management (DRM) has been scaled back. Some of the language is still very broad. But it seems the goal is to limit the effect to companies that produce consumer products and products that are designed for use at home (e.g. digital recording devices). As a result, a number of companies that expressed concern about the DRM provisions, for example financial services companies, may now be more comfortable with the license.
  • Language around web services has also been scaled back. The option to extend the license to online services is no longer an approved restriction. The FSF still appears committed to supporting the Affero license (which covers some code used by online companies). This draft allows users to link to Affero code without triggering the reciprocity obligations of GPL3. In other words, it seems you can link a GPL3 work to an Affero work and keep the GPL3 part under GPL3 and the Affero part under Affero. The provision clearly provides support for the Affero license in that it increases dramatically the code that can be linked to Affero code. At the same time, it is not likely to generate the same level of concern as the Affero provisions in the earlier draft. Those would have allowed Affero - like restrictions on GPL3 code - and the restrictions would have been a challenge for companies to track.
  • There is new language regarding relationships like the one between Novell and Microsoft. There's no question that relationship has had an impact on the open source world and the community is doing its best to discuss the ramifications. We will have to see what the impact of the language is as part of the process. It is interesting though, that the language seems to prohibit similar future deals but doesn't prohibit the actual deal that caused such discussion and concern. That puts other Linux providers at a disadvantage, since a similar relationship with Microsoft would not be allowed under GPL3. It's still unclear how that issue will play out."
Given the changes between drafts two and three, it is important for technology company and enterprises alike using open source software to follow this process.

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