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GPL 3 on The Good Side?

Members of the Free and Open Source Community and its associated ecosystem are giving the thumbs up to the first draft of the new GPL 3 license.

Barely a week old, GPL 3 is a draft intended to solicit discussion and comment.

While IBM and Novell think that it's still a bit early to tell, others, such as the leader of the community-based Debian GNU/Linux distribution, are a bit more vocal in their satisfaction with the direction the draft is taking.

Unlike commercial Linux distributions, such as Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Novell's SUSE Linux, Debian's core distribution adheres to a strict interpretation of Free Software as defined in the Debian Free Software Guidelines (DFSG).

Brendan Robinson, the current leader of Debian told internetnews.com in an e-mail interview that he likes the new GPL draft. Though, he did admit that the amount of secrecy around the initial draft process had him very nervous.

"I'm glad to say that my fears are assuaged," Robinson said. "I was impressed with both the large and small changes. Many of the changes the FSF has made were simply clarifications, but I can remember many of those same points of ambiguity being raised in discussions on the Debian-legal mailing list.

"Whether Debian was the first to note any of them, I'm not sure," he added, "but this first draft reassures me that the FSF has been listening and paying attention to the community. "

Among the improvements that Robinson highlighted is the expanded license compatibility language that makes it easier to have non-GPL-licensed materials alongside with GPL-licensed materials.

"If adopted in the final version, it will smooth the process of integrating materials under common free but non-copyleft licenses that have requirements on retention of attribution that differ from the GPL in detail but not in spirit," Robinson explained.

The new GPL also takes a stand against spyware, though the draft doesn't explicitly use the term "spyware."

Paragraph 3 of the "Digital Restrictions Management" states, "Regardless of any other provision of this License, no permission is given to distribute covered works that illegally invade users' privacy."

Robinson noted that, in general, he's not a big fan of license provisions that put users in violation if they break laws that have nothing to do with copyright, because such provisions can be used to evil ends.

"In Debian we have a concept called the 'Dissident Test,' which is an expression of the idea that a free software license cannot be used as a weapon against someone who, for example, is using the software to utter political speech that is banned in the country where they live," Robinson explained.

The new GPL draft also includes terms that mandate retention of a program's existing function to emit its own source code. According to Robinson those terms, something that he referred to as the "quine clause," can collide with provisions of the Debian Free Software Guidelines.

"It's likely that the Debian Project will have to decide whether it agrees with the FSF that the new restrictions of modification serve freedom rather than, or more than, they restrict it," Robinson said.

On the issues of patent and DRM, Robinson said the GPL 3 is on target.

"One thing I'm confident about is that aggressive users of DRM and software patents don't have many friends in the Debian Project or the free software community in general."

Apparently DRM doesn't cull much favor among Linux kernel developers, either. In a mailing list posting, Linux kernel developer Alan Cox wrote, "Free Software is about freedom; that means the freedom to do things like play music you own, the rights to play and the freedom to distribute music you have the right to distribute.

"The dream of big music industry is mandatory DRM where there is no way for an artist to escape their clutches and publish music without them getting a very large cut of, if not all, the profits," Cox continued.

Another of the potential benefits of the new GPL is that it may in fact help reduce risks associated with software.

Open Source Risk Management is a company that protects organizations from risk.

According to Karen Hiser, director of compliance at OSRM, the Free Software Foundation's goal of preserving free software users' rights is aligned with OSRM's goal of helping enterprises create a risk-free environment in which they can take full advantage of all of free software's many benefits.

"We see the GPL changes as the natural evolution of the license, as the free software community grows and technology continues to evolve," Hiser told internetnews.com.

The next draft of GPL 3 is expected by May, with the final draft set for release sometime before March 2007.