New GPL draft due Wednesday

A third draft of the dominant open-source license is due Wednesday, and the final is due 90 days afterward.
Written by Stephen Shankland, Contributor
A new phase of wrangling over the future of the dominant open-source license, the General Public License, is set to begin Wednesday and to end 90 days afterward.

The third discussion draft of GPL version 3 is scheduled for release at 7 a.m. PDT on Wednesday, Brett Smith, a licensing compliance engineer for the Free Software Foundation said in a mailing list posting Monday. The current GPL 2 governs the rights and restrictions of many open-source and free-software projects, including high-profile ones such as the Linux kernel, Java and MySQL database.

A "last-call" draft is due 60 days after the third discussion draft, and the final GPL 3 will arrive 30 days after that, Smith said.

"We remain absolutely committed to hearing input from as much of the free-software community as possible before publishing a final version of the license," Smith said on the mailing list. "We are adjusting the drafting process to make sure that everyone interested has an opportunity to make their voice heard."

The timing pushes back by about three months the original deadline of March for a new version of the license. One reason for the delay was the announcement of a patent deal between Microsoft and Linux seller Novell under which Microsoft agreed not to sue Novell Linux customers for patent infringement. The most recent draft wouldn't have prohibited releasing GPL software under such conditions, but FSF founder Richard Stallman said the group would find a way to prohibit it.

"The second discussion draft of GPL 3 was released eight months ago, in July 2006. We had never planned to let so much time pass between public releases of the license. We felt it was important to fully discuss a few specific issues, including the recent patent deal between Novell and Microsoft, before proceeding with the process," Smith said.

The key issue in the license is whether GPL 2 and GPL 3 will be compatible, said DLA Piper attorney Mark Radcliffe, a member of an official committee of lawyers and others providing opinions on GPL 3. Compatibility would mean that software contributions made under one license can be used in projects governed by the other.

"I think that, unless they make it backward compatible with GPL 2, they're going to create an enormous amount of problems for everybody," Radcliffe said. Specifically, it raises the prospect that projects will "fork" into different versions governed by different licenses.

And the Free Software Foundation has limited leverage, he added; if GPL is too far beyond major open-source players' desires, they can continue supporting projects only under GPL 2. "A number of Linux distribution providers can say, 'As much as we love FSF (projects such as GCC, GLIBC and Bin-utils), at the end of the day, we're not going to break our business over it.' They could obviously fork it and continue forward," Radcliffe said.

Linux founder Linus Torvalds has expressed major reservations with the current GPL 3 draft and with the FSF's ideological motivations, and Torvalds' top deputies also panned the most recent draft. Torvalds doesn't like a provision against digital rights management, which governs which code or content can be used on a particular piece of hardware.

Hewlett-Packard has voiced concerns as well regarding patent provisions in the most recent draft.

On the supportive side, Sun Microsystems likes the GPLv3 and is considering it for both Java and OpenSolaris, its two highest-profile software projects.

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