RealTime IT News

GPL 3 Draft 3 Prevents Free Software 'Mockery'

As promised, the third draft of the GPL 3 was released today, strongly influenced and delayed by the patent agreement between Novell and Microsoft.

The third draft also refines terms on termination, compatibility and applicability of the defining license of the Free Software movement. The ultimate effect of the GPL version 3 may well be extremely widespread, affecting countless thousands of software applications and tens of millions of developers and users.

"The GPL was designed to ensure that all users of a program receive the four essential freedoms which define free software," Richard Stallman, president of the FSF and principal author of the GNU GPL, said in a statement. "The recent patent agreement between Microsoft and Novell aims to undermine these freedoms. In this draft we have worked hard to prevent such deals from making a mockery of free software."

Since its first draft, the GPL version 3 has sought to provide patent protection for users, which is further extended in the third draft in direct response to the Microsoft Novell agreement.

The new patent requirements in the third draft are intended to prevent distributors from colluding with patent holders to provide discriminatory protection from patents, according to the Free Software Foundation (FSF).

"Novell and Microsoft have recently attempted a new way of using patents against our community, which involves a narrow and discriminatory promise by a patent holder not to sue customers of one particular distributor of a GPL-covered program," according to the FSF in its rationale document explaining GPL version 3 draft 3. "Such deals threaten our community in several ways, each of which may be regarded as de facto proprietization of the software.

"If users are frightened into paying that one distributor just to be safe from lawsuits, in effect they are paying for permission to use the program," the rationale continues. "They effectively deny even these customers the full and safe exercise of some of the freedoms granted by the GPL. And they make disfavored free software developers and distributors more vulnerable to attacks of patent aggression by dividing them from another part of our community, the commercial users that might otherwise come to their defense."

For those that actually do end up violating the GPL, the third draft is more lenient than previous drafts in that it provides an option for remedy in the license terms. According to the FSF, first-time GPL violators can have their license automatically restored if they remedy the problem within 30 days.

An effort has also been made in the third draft to help GPL-licensed software users understand when they actually need to provide source code. When it comes to typical PC or server applications, the needs are clear and self-evident. However there had been some confusion when it comes to the use of GPL'ed software in devices like the popular Tivo for example.

The third draft now stipulates that manufacturers of consumer products that use GPL'ed software need to provide the source code as well as installation information for the source code.

"GPLv3 introduces provisions that respond to the growing practice of distributing GPL-covered programs in devices that employ technical means to restrict users from installing and running modified versions," the FSF's rationale document explains. "This practice thwarts the expectations of developers and users alike, because the right to modify is one of the core freedoms the GPL is designed to secure."

That said, the need to provide source is not required according to the GPLv3 draft 3," if neither you nor any third party retains the ability to install modified object code on the User Product."

Though the third draft of GPLv3 adds much in terms of helping to clarify the terms of the license and make it compatible, in various use cases it still falls short in one key area -- compatibility with the popular Apache 2.0 license.

"We regret that we will not achieve compatibility of the Apache License, Version 2.0, with GPLv3, despite what we had previously promised," according to the rationale document. "We look forward to further discussions with the Apache Foundation in the hope of achieving compatibility in the future."

With the release of the third draft, a 60-day period now begins for public comment. After the 60 days are up, the FSF expects to issue a fourth draft that it will call the last-call draft. The last call draft will be followed by a 30-day comment period at the end of which the GPL v 3 will be formally adopted by the FSF as an official license.