Linux developers debate GPL 3 support

Some coders believe the Linux kernel won't use version 3 of the GPL, but Alan Cox wants developers to stop speculating at this early stage

Leading Linux developers are divided on whether the open source operating system should use the next version of the GNU General Public License.

The first public discussion draft of GPL 3 was released last week. Over the weekend the Linux kernel mailing list started discussing whether this version could be used, as this may require a consensus among kernel developers.

The Free Software Foundation, which is responsible for the GPL, has previously recommended that programs distributed under the licence state their support for future versions of the open source licence; Linus Torvalds, the founder of Linux, distributed Linux under the current version of the GPL specifically, without making reference to future versions.

Linux kernel maintainer Stephen Hemminger said the decision to move to GPL 3 would require the agreement of everyone who has written code for the kernel, as they hold the copyright to the code they have written.

Patrick McLean replied that he did not think the new version of the GPL would be adopted, particularly as it could be impossible to get everyone's permission: "I don't think the kernel is going to move to v3, it's licensed specifically as v2," he said. "Also, given that several of the copyright holders in the kernel are dead, I don't think we will be able to obtain permission."

But Alan Cox, a well known Linux developer, tried to stop negative speculation, claiming that it was too early to make a decision regarding GPL 3.

"What finally happens is going to depend almost entirely on whether the GPL v3 is a sane license or not and on consensus, and it is *way* too early to figure that out," he said.

Although the first draft of the GPL is available, a second and third draft will be released later this year and the final version is only expected in spring 2007.

Cox also claimed that it is uncertain whether everyone's permission will be needed, as Torvalds alone made the decision to prevent Linux from being distributed under future versions of the GPL.

"It isn't clear that [getting permission of all copyright holders] will be a problem. Very few people specifically put their code v2 only, and Linus' edit of the top copying file was not done with permission of other copyright holders anyway so it really only affects his code, if it is valid at all," Cox said.

Last year, Eben Moglen, the general counsel for Free Software Foundation, said there shouldn't be a problem persuading Linux developers to migrate to GPL 3, as the licence will be developed with their input.