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Mozilla's Lawyer Isn't a GPLv3 Fan

The GPL version 3 has been out for six weeks, and the debate about whether to adopt it remains heated.

Adding her voice to the anti-GPL version chorus is lawyer Heather Meeker of legal firm Greenberg Traurig, LLP. Meeker isn't just any lawyer, though. Her firm's clients include two of the biggest names in open source, browser vendor Mozilla and VoIP vendor Digium.

"I am not recommending GPL v3 to my clients at this point," Meeker said in a session at LinuxWorld San Francisco. "The patent provisions are difficult to understand, and I'm not sure how they will play out. I'm asking clients to choose GPL v2 only."

Meeker noted that GPL version 3 is still early and not enough is known about it. She was also concerned as to how widely accepted the license may or may not become.

Meeker's position on GPL version 3 does not necessarily represent the official position of Mozilla. Currently Mozilla ships its Firefox Web browser under both a Mozilla Public License as well as the GPL version 2.

"Heather Meeker does act as one of the outside legal counsel for Mozilla," a Mozilla spokesperson noted in an e-mailed statement. "She has been our legal counsel for several years. Though, of course, any statements she makes at the conference reflect her own opinions and not necessarily the advice she gives to Mozilla or our position."

Not only is she not keen on GPL version 3 for patent reasons, she's also not in favor of it as a refuge for attribution clauses. Recently, open source CRM vendor SugarCRM elected to move to the GPLv3. Among the reasons for the move was to get away from the Mozilla License plus attribution which is not an official open source license.

The attribution clause essentially stipulates a "powered by" type of notation in the program. Some have argued that SugarCRM's move to GPLv3 implies that GPLv3 is a good choice for those looking for clean attribution languages.

Meeker doesn't exactly agree. She did admit that there are similarities between what SugarCRM was doing with its Mozilla License plus attribution and what the GPLv3 offers, but they are not enough for her to recommend the new Free Software license.

"The attribution clauses in open source licenses are a complete mess; they are unworkable inconsistent and are difficult for licensees and licensors," Meeker said. "To me that would not be enough reason to move to GPLv3."

She added that her personal view is not to recommend that her clients go down the Mozilla plus attribution channel anyways.

"What I recommend is that they use an un-adulterated open source license like Mozilla, and they manage the rest through trademark law," Meeker explained.

Meeker also noted that developers can also force attribution by including it in the application code itself.

"I don't know how useful it is in a license," Meeker said. "I would love to see a world where the attribution clauses of open source licenses are more systematic, uniform and meaningful.

"I think that the licensors have a perfect right to ask for attribution but requiring people to put a 15-page license agreement in source code delivered for a cell phone is ludicrous."