GPL 3 Lawyer Has His Regrets

SAN FRANCISCO — Few topics are as contentious in the Linux world as GPL 3 , the general public license that details how many open source software programs can be used.

During a session at the LinuxWorld conference here, Free Software Foundation counsel and co-author of the GPL 3 draft, Eben Moglen, explained the current status of the license draft discussion as well as some of the more contentious issues surrounding it.

Three areas of disagreement remain and need to be sorted out within 65-80 days, according to Moglen. They include: patent clauses; digital rights management (DRM) policy, and compatibility terms.

HP has already made known its objections to the patent clauses in draft 2.

“It is the position of those that hold patents whose claims we have to take into account,” Moglen said.

He also admitted to mistakes in the draft process, and called it exhausting.

The GPL version 3 effort began in January with a first draft that marked the first significant attempt at revising the GPL version 2 license, which has sat unchanged since June of 1991. Among the contentious issues in the first draft were approaches to DRM (Digital Rights Management) and patents. The second draft was released last month, after much community input and discussion.

In terms of license compatibility, the issue is whether a GPL program may contain some file that contains restrictive terms that do not apply to the program as a whole.

Moglen said the power of the additional permission sections in the latest draft means that, for example, parties who object to a particular requirement in the license can grant additional simple permissions that will change the bearing of the license on their project.

For DRM, Moglen said the goal is to include the minimum necessary to protect the freedoms with software that the FSF is trying to guarantee.

Moglen admitted that the first draft contained errors of presentation and expression.

“We didn’t do everything we might have done to avoid certain misinterpretations.”

Among the changes between draft 1 and draft 2 were the removal of some titles from section headings, such as Digital Restrictions Management and Liberty or Death as section titles.

“I want titles that are explanations and not arguments. If they merely raise your blood pressure than they’re probably not the right section titles.”

Moglen encouraged the audience to comment on the issues that remain in the current draft before the next draft, which will be available in early November.

“I find the conversation impressive in its quality and its reach. It’s also exhausting,” Moglen added. “I’m glad it will be over soon. You’ll get a better license.”

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