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Linux Developers Reject GPLv3

Linux creator Linus Torvalds has opposed GPL version 3 since its draft surfaced in January.

Nine months and one discussion draft later, he still isn't having it and he's not alone.

A who's who list of the top Linux kernel developers has joined Torvalds in rejection of the proposed GPLv3. If it ain't broke don't fix it, they say.

"Since GPLv2 has served us so well for so long, and since it is the foundation of our developer contract which has helped propel Linux to the successes it enjoys today, we are extremely reluctant to contemplate tampering with that license except as bug fixes to correct exposed problems or updates counter imminent dangers," the kernel developers position paper states.

"So far, in the whole history of GPLv2, including notable successes both injunctively and at trial, we have not found any bugs significant enough to warrant such corrections."

Kernel developers James E.J. Bottomley Mauro Carvalho Chehab, Thomas Gleixner, Christoph Hellwig, Dave Jones, Greg Kroah-Hartman, Tony Luck, Andrew Morton, Trond Myklebust and David Woodhouse have endorsed the paper.

The obvious and most notable non-signatory to the position paper is none other than Torvalds. But that's not to say he doesn't oppose GPLv3, but rather that he has a different approach as to how he wants to voice that opposition.

"One of the reasons I didn't end up signing the GPLv3 position statement that James posted (and others had signed up for), was that a few weeks ago I had signed up for writing another kind of statement entirely: not so much about why I dislike the GPLv3, but why I think the GPLv2 is so great," Torvalds wrote in a mailing list posting.

Torvalds argued that GPLv2 has withstood the test of time and will continue to do so.

In his view the same basic reasons why he chose version 2 as the license for the Linux kernel are the same reasons it should stay the same.

"Yes, the GPLv2 is 'old' for being a copyright license, but it's not even that you don't want to mess with something that works," Torvalds wrote.

"It's that it very fundamentally is such a good license that there's not a whole lot of room for fixing aside from pure wording issues."

Torvalds explained that in the beginning when he was looking for the right license it was about fairness, so that people contribute back and don't just take.

"And that's what the GPLv2 is. It's 'fair.' It asks everybody regardless of circumstance for the same thing," Torvalds wrote.

"It asks for the effort that was put into improving the software to be given back to the common good.

"That's true grace," Torvalds continued. "Realizing that the petty concerns don't matter, whether they are money or DRM, or patents, or anything else."

Patents and DRM are two of the key new issues in the GPLv3 and have been modified as the result of extensive discussion for the second draft of the proposed license.

HP also objects to the patent provisions in the draft.

The kernel developers also cited patents and DRM as aspects of the GPLv3 they object to.

The kernel developers see the DRM clauses, which attempt to restrict developers from imposing usage rights on GPL-licensed software, as something that impedes freedom.

"While we find the use of DRM by media companies in their attempts to reach into user-owned devices to control content deeply disturbing, our belief in the essential freedoms of section 3 forbids us from ever accepting any license which contains end use restrictions," the position paper states.

"The existence of DRM abuse is no excuse for curtailing freedoms."

On the patent issue, kernel developers also see the potential restrictions that GPLv3 would impose as something that could restrict innovation.

"As drafted, this currently looks like it would potentially jeopardise the entire patent portfolio of a company simply by the act of placing a GPLv3 licensed programme on their website," the position paper states.

"Since the Linux software ecosystem relies on these type of contributions from companies who have lawyers who will take the broadest possible interpretation when assessing liability, we find this clause unacceptable because of the chilling effect it will have on the necessary corporate input to our innovation stream."

The GPLv3 effort began in January, with a first draft that marked the first significant attempt at revising the GPLv2 license, which hasn't changed since June 1991.

The second draft was released last month, after much community input and discussion. Thousands of software applications are licensed under the GPL version 2, including the Linux kernel.