What the GPL should, and shouldn't, be

Stephen Shankland writes about the forthcoming GPL version 3. One comment posted to Shankland's piece needs addressing.
Written by Joe Brockmeier, Contributor

Stephen Shankland writes about the forthcoming GPL version 3. One comment posted to Shankland's piece needs addressing. The poster writes, "The key point is: software has value, and the GPL is intended to negate that value."

Obviously, this person, and many others, has a very limited idea of what "value" is. I believe the poster is confusing "value" with price tag. The GPL is designed to protect the "value" of its software, as surely as Microsoft's EULA is designed to protect the "value" of Microsoft Windows or Microsoft Office. However, Bill Gates and Richard Stallman see the world in very different ways -- though both men obviously think that software is important, and that software can improve people's lives. The difference, of course, is how they feel that software should be distributed and what rights users and developers should have.

Value is not only expressed in dollars and cents. There's value in the freedom allowed by the GPL (and other open source and free software licenses) for users and developers to share ideas and code. There's a great deal of value in having a body of software that people can use, and customize and distribute, without having to part with large sums of money.

Another thing that caught my eye is Eben Moglen's comment about refining the GPL to make it clear whether the GPL applies to software that communicates with GPL'ed software via Web services -- like SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol).

"Static and dynamic linking is no longer the fight we need to have. Instead we have to ask ourselves about SOAP and bubbles and nets and stuff moving around in grids and through intersections and heaven only knows what else," Moglen said.

I do hope that Moglen, Stallman and anyone else with hand in the new GPL, are wise enough to take a "hands-off" approach with software that works in conjunction with GPL'ed software. The GPL should continue to protect the "value" of GPL'ed software without being greedy. Non-GPL'ed applications should be able to communicate with GPL'ed software via SOAP and other protocols without any license requirements -- which is how it is today. If the new license removes this "value" it will no doubt fail early on.

What changes would you like to see in the new GPL? I think the license could use a few small tweaks, but Moglen and Stallman should avoid making any sweeping changes. Give me your ideas in the TalkBack.

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