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Stallman Urges Users to Upgrade to GPLv3

After nearly 16 years of use, the GPL -- the cornerstone license of the Free Software Movement -- has officially been revised.

GPL version 3 (GPLv3) was released today by the Free Software Foundation (FSF), capping a turbulent 18-month period of debate and discussion.

On a webcast from FSF's headquarters in Boston, FSF founder Richard Stallman explained why GPLv3 is critical and encouraged all Free Software users to adopt it quickly as a way to preserve software freedom.

"They thought of new ways to separate users from their freedom since GPL version 2 came out," Stallman said in his webcast. "So we have had to find ways of blocking them from doing this."

The GPLv3 includes new provisions that prevent digital rights management (DRM) usage with GPLv3 licensed code. It also includes new internationalization terms, making the license more compatible globally.

Stallman also noted that GPLv3 is now compatible with the Apache 2.0 license and includes new terms for termination in the event of license violation that actually allow for remediation; the GPLv2 did not feature such terms.

Stallman saved some of his most intense remarks for his comments on patent protections which are improved in GPLv3 and specifically geared toward the Novell-Microsoft deal.

"The Novell-Microsoft deal is dangerous because effectively Novell is going to pay Microsoft to give customers protection from Microsoft patents," Stallman said.

"If Microsoft or anyone can make users pay for the privilege of running Free Software that takes away the freedom to run the program as you wish. We can't sit idly by and let that happen."

Stallman explained that Novell and Microsoft slipped through a crack in the GPLv2 license by striking a patent covenant and not a license. With GPLv3, Stallman thinks that he's got a way to turn the deal against Microsoft.

"Instead of saying Novell can't distribute GPLv3 covered programs under their deal, we found a cleverer thing to do with it," Stallman said.

"When Novell upgrades to versions of software covered by the GPLv3, GPLv3 will extend this patent protection from the customers of Novell to everybody who uses those programs. Effectively, we found a way to turn the deal against Microsoft and make it backfire."

Accordingly, Stallman added that it's extremely important for Free Software users to upgrade their licenses to GPLv3 so that Novell will eventually put in the new version and the community will get this benefit.

Stallman advised viewers to be wary of those that advise against moving to GPLv3.

"They {those against GPLv3} usually disagree cause they disagree with the GPL's goal of guaranteeing freedom for every user," Stallman said. "Defend the users' freedom, don't listen to them. We have to defend the users' freedom against these threats."

"GPLv 3 will help our community in many ways and I urge people to upgrade to it."

The FSF also revealed today in its release that over 15 GNU programs will be released under the new license today with the intention of having the entire GNU project follow soon.

But among the issues that will face existing GPLv2 users is the incompatibility with GPLv3.

"Reciprocal licenses cannot be compatible with each other," Black Duck Software's Kat McCabe, vice president & general counsel, explained to internetnews.com.

"If you use code covered by a reciprocal license, that license requires that it control the code when it's licensed back out. You can't have multiple licenses that by their terms claim to govern a particular work automatically. So, it's correct to say that "GPL2 only" code and GPL3 code are not compatible."

The solution to the problem isn't entirely clear. McCabe noted that Black Duck's solution allows users to distinguish between different versions of the license so they can distinguish between "GPL2 only" and GPL3 code.

"Generally speaking though, there are a limited number projects that are provided under "GPL2 only" licenses, for example the Linux kernel," McCabe said.

"Most projects governed by GPL2 have language that says that the code is governed by GPL2 or any later version of the license. That code can be converted from GPL2 to GPL3 at the option of the user. In that case, there is no license conflict."

Jason Wacha, vice president of corporate affairs & general counsel at MontaVista Software, sees the potential for some confusion between the two licenses.

If you mix version 2 with version 3 and then create a derivative work, Wacha argued that it's not clear under which license the resulting work needs to be offered under.

Where version 2 and version are likely to co-exist in some fashion is with the use of the GCC compiler, one way or another.

"If, for some reason, GCC rolled to version 3 and there was no exceptions for use under version 2 I would say that it is almost certain that GCC would fork," Wacha stated. "It has forked in the past and it will probably fork again if that happens -- that's my personal prediction."

Overall, MontaVista which develops Linux for the embedded market, isn't worried about the GPL version 3.

"It could affect some of our mobile carriers," Wach told internetnews.com. "Overall they will probably avoid using code licensed under the GPLv3 if possible and stick with version 2."

With its new restrictive clauses on patents and DRM, the embedded market likely isn't afraid of the GPLv3 either.

"Our customers are used to working with licenses that are much more restrictive than the GPL," Wacha said. "In my opinion, typical proprietary licenses are much more restrictive in pretty much all instances than the GPL."