Look for a new GPL in 2005

Look for a new GPL in 2005

Summary: According to this piece, we might be seeing a new version of the GNU General Public License (GPL) in 2005. This new revision of the GPL is supposed to cover areas that weren't addressed by the current version of the GPL, such as patents and Web services.

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TOPICS: Open Source
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According to this piece, we might be seeing a new version of the GNU General Public License (GPL) in 2005. This new revision of the GPL is supposed to cover areas that weren't addressed by the current version of the GPL, such as patents and Web services.

On one hand, it's about time that the GPL had a makeover. The current GNU GPL is more than a decade old, and the landscape has changed considerably in that time. Software patents were not a major concern in 1991, for example. It's also an opportunity for the GNU Project to clarify areas of the GPL that have been considered murky, and to counter some of the free-floating FUD concerning the GPL. Perhaps some of the GPL naysayers might actually read this license before spouting off about it. That may be too much to ask for, though.

On the other hand, creating a license that will make everyone happy-- or at least those who currently utilize the GPL for their software-- is going to be difficult at best. For example, will the new GPL be considered "free" according to Debian's Free Software Guidelines? The GNU Free Documentation License (FDL) didn't pass muster with Debian. If the new GPL contains anti-patent language, will it be too much for corporations that have embraced Linux and other GPL'ed software?

One thing to consider is that a draft of the license will probably be pushed out for public commentary before it's considered official. Stop to think about that for a minute, and imagine if Microsoft gave its customers an opportunity to comment on licensing changes ahead of time.

This license has been quite a long time in coming. Richard Stallman has been talking about a new GPL for years. If you'd like a preview of things to come, the GNU Project endorsed a derivative of the GPL that added a clause to cover software used for Web services. Specifically, the Affero GPL added a clause to cover programs that gave users the opportunity to download the full source code ofinteractive network-based applications.

At the moment, the GPL enjoys a dominant role in the open source community. Stallman and the Free Software Foundation need to do several things to ensure that a revised GPL continues to enjoy wide support. Most obviously, the new GPL needs to be backwards-compatible with the previous license. I expect this will be the case. The new license also needs to be a revision, rather than a radically different license. It would also be helpful if the new license is more explicit about interaction with non-GPL'ed programs.

Until the license is made public, though, it's all academic. Until then, what would you like to see in the GPL, version 3?

Topic: Open Source

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