GPL 3 Draft Released

After almost 15 years, its time has finally come.

A draft of GNU GPL version 3 is now publicly available for comment and discussion. The defining license of the Free Software movement is undergoing a revision process that will provide the foundation for the next decade’s worth or free and open source software.

The proposed changes in the GNU GPL address issues that have bedeviled developers such as digital rights management, patents and license compatibility.

The GPL version 2 is the license under which the Linux kernel as well as countless thousands of software applications are currently licensed. The world in which the GPL version 2.0 was released in June of 1991 has changed, although, according to a rationale document published by the Free Software Foundation (FSF), technology changes over the past 15 years are not the primary motivation for a GPL revision.

“The concern of the GPL is not the particulars of technology but the maintenance of users’ freedoms,” the rationale document states. “To be sure, technological developments of the past fifteen years have enabled new freedoms and have resulted in new threats to freedom. No fundamental change in computer technology has occurred that requires a radical change to our license, however.”

The FSF argues that changes in law, principally the application of patent law to software represent a challenge to software users’ freedom.

“Software patents threaten every free software project, just as they threaten proprietary software and custom software,” the FSF’s rationale states. “Any program can be destroyed or crippled by a software patent belonging to someone who has no other connection to the program.”

Section 11 of the draft of GPL version 3 is devoted to patents. The license will require that a free patent license is granted for patents contained in a GPL v.3 licensed work.

“This patent license is nonexclusive, royalty-free and worldwide, and covers all patent claims you control or have the right to sublicense, at the time you distribute the covered work or in the future, that would be infringed or violated by the covered work or any reasonably contemplated use of the covered work,” the GPL version 3 draft states.

GPL v.3 also takes direct aim at Digital Rights Management (DRM) calling the technology a “threat to free software” and part of, “a campaign to limit users’ rights.”

“Unfree software implementing DRM technology is simply a prison in which users can be put to deprive them of the rights that the law would otherwise allow them,” the FSF’s rationale document states. “Our aim is, and must be, the abolition of DRM as a social practice.”

The draft of Version 3 of the GPL actually spells out DRM as “Digital Restrictions Management” (rather the Digital Rights Management) in section three of the license.

“Regardless of any other provision of this License, no permission is given to distribute covered works that illegally invade users’ privacy, nor for modes of distribution that deny users that run covered works the full exercise of the legal rights granted by this License,” the draft license states.

One of the other items that GPL version 2 users have struggled with over the years is compatibility of the license with other free and open source software licenses. In some cases, such as one with MySQL in 2004 license incompatibility prevents software from being distributed and bundled together.

According to the FSF’s rationale document, “GPLv3 contains provisions that are designed to reduce license incompatibility by making it easier for developers to combine code carrying non-GPL terms with GPL’d code.”

For the countless millions of existing users and developers of GPL version 2 licensed software, the immediacy of the impact that will be wrought by version 3 depends somewhat.

Karen Copenhaver, general counsel at software compliance firm Black Duck Software explained that for many important software programs licensed under GPL 2, the license is specific with respect to 2.0.

“Unless there is a process put in place to move that license form 2 to 3, that code will continue to be licensed under GPL 2,” Copenhaver told “With respect to code licensed under “GPL 2 and any subsequent version,” anyone distributing that code could apply the terms of GPL 3 once GPL 3 is formally in place.”

The Free Software Foundation publicly indicated that work on version 3 of the GNU GPL would begin in 2006 back in September of last year.

In November they released a process documentthat outlines the collaborative process and roadmap to the eventual final release of the license. Two additional public drafts are to follow the current draft, the first one is expected in April or May of this year with the second expect in October. The final draft is expected by March of 2007 at the latest.

News Around the Web