GPL 3: Making Room on Patents, DRM

The second draft release of the GNU General Public License (GPL) Version 3 is out, including a softening on its terms about DRM (Digital Rights Management) and patents.

Let the comments and controversy resume over the proposed changes to widely-used open source license.

The latest draft release softened its stance from the prior by noting that its own DRM provision under the open source license is meant to prevent DRM users from disallowing people from modifying or sharing GPL version 3 licensed software.

“The clarified DRM section preserves the spirit of the original GPL, which forbids adding additional unfree restrictions to free software,” The Free Software Foundation (FSF) said in a statement about the latest release.

“GPLv3 does not prohibit the implementation of DRM features, but prevents them from being imposed on users in a way that they cannot remove.”

The group working on the GPL draft also removed significant amounts of text from section 11 of GPL version 3, which deals with the other contentious issue introduced in the first draft: patents.

Originally the section was titled “Licensing of Patents.” In the latest draft, it’s simply titled: “Patents.”

In its rationale document for draft 2 of GPL v.3, the FSF said it removed the reference to licensing since the section “is no longer concerned solely with granting of and distribution under patent licenses.”

The group added: “We have replaced the express patent license grant with a covenant not to assert patent claims, and the new paragraph on reservation of implied rights is not limited to implied patent licenses.”

The second draft of GPL version 3 also includes a modification to the license compatibility section, which is intended to make GPL v.3 more palatable to projects that include it along with other free and open source licenses.

There are also new provisions for sharing GPL license software on file sharing networks.

The latest version follows about seven months of discussion since the prior draft and nearly a thousand suggestions, all wrapped in a fair share of controversy, especially over the DRM and patent discussions.

GPL is the defining license of the Free Software movement and has not undergone revision since the GPL version 2 license was released in June of 1991.

It is the license under which the Linux kernel is licensed as well as thousands of other applications.

Part of the controversy and debate that erupted around the first draft release of GPL 3 was about its strict language and terms in reference to DRM (Digital Rights Management) and patents.

For example, the first draft referred to DRM as “Digital Restrictions Management.” The second draft retitled that section to: “No Denying Users’ Rights Through Technical Measures.”

“As a free software license, this License intrinsically disfavors technical attempts to restrict users’ freedom to copy, modify, and share copyrighted works,” the first draft stated. “Each of its provisions shall be interpreted in light of this specific declaration of the licensor’s intent.”

It is unknown at this point whether the Linux kernel itself will move to GPL version 3 when it is finalized in early 2007.

When the first draft appeared, Linux creator Linus Torvalds went on record in opposition to it. In April, Free Software Foundation counsel and co-author of the GPL 3 draft, Eben Moglen, explained that conversations about the revisions were ongoing with Torvalds. Moglen noted in a public forum that Torvalds does not have to be brought to the negotiation table, but rather the Free Software Foundation needs to bring a table to him.

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