Europe gets its own GPL

Europe now has its own version of the GPL. It's got copyleft, but it lacks the extra language found in GPLv3 meant to enforce that concept.

Europe now has its own version of the GPL.

It's got copyleft, but it lacks the extra language found in GPLv3 meant to enforce that concept.

The European Union Public License is an effort by EU government services to codify a Euro-centric view of copyleft, in 22 languages. (Nathan White has a giant version of this Tower of Babel image on his Shepherd the Flock blog.)

Roberto GalloppiniGaloppini writes from Rome that the Open Source Initiative approved the new license on March 4, but complains it has yet to show up on the OSI Web site.

In fact a quick check shows a link from the OSI Web site list of approved OSI licenses back to a copy of the EUPL hosted in Europe.

A set of slides on the new license notes that it groups its protection into "principles" but leaves their interpretation up to judges in the EU member states. The GPLv3 effort was meant to strictly limit how the license could be interpreted.

Another key difference is that the GPLv3 preamble does not appear in the EUPL. The slide I was shown called the preamble "ideology," stating that the intent of the EUPL is merely "to reinforce legal interoperability by adopting a common framework for pooling public sector software."

While the OSI under Michael Tiemann went on a tear a few years ago about reducing the number of open source licenses, its Web site now lists about 63 such licenses, by my count. Mission not accomplished, Mike.

The problem with all this, as Roberto himself noted when I chatted with him about it, is that any open source user needs a law degree to track the various legal technicalities under which various bits of code are licensed.

The EUPL seems designed to enable sharing of code among European governments, which is great. But when those governments take code covered by, say, the Nokia Open Source License, or the Eiffel Forum License, or the new EU DataGrid License, headaches can result.

These headaches cannot even be relieved (anymore) by referring to the GPL, since there are now four different GNU licenses, plus the new EUPL, which I guess one could call GNU-ish.

The folks working on the new license seem aware of the problems, as noted by Bruce Perens last month, but added this seeming endorsement of the new license by Martin Michlmayer, who runs FOSSology and FOSSBazaar:

There are obviously vanity factors involved when a license happens to bear the name of its issuer. But one new license is bound to be of true value in the near future: the EUPL [European Union Public License]. For the first time we'd have a license available in all European languages and valid everywhere, that is, all translations have been legally scrutinized. 

He added, "EUPL code can be converted to GPL code."

Sure, but what type of GPL code, Martin? GPLv2? V3? Affero? LGPL or greater? 

We're right back where we started, at the bottom of the Tower of Babel.

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