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Moglen on GPL 3.0

Pac Man stikes back

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The Free Software Foundation (FSF) is soliciting input for the next version of the GNU General Public License (GPL), a release expected to tackle internationalization, web services and security. It's the first revision to the license for 14 years.

The group is preparing to announce nominations for a number of advisory committees that will take community feedback from more than 15,000 individuals and an estimated 800 organizations on the next GPL. The committees will then advocate proposed changes to the community.

The final decision over what goes into GPL 3.0, though, is likely to rest with GPL's original author Richard Stallman, according to FSF general counsel Eben Moglen.

Speaking at LinuxWorld in San Francisco, California, he claimed that GPL 3.0 is likely to be the largest non-government act of legislation in the history of the world, because of the number of individuals and organizations involved. A first draft of GPL 3.0 is expected in early 2007.

According to Moglen, FSF's decision to change the GPL is designed to "shore-up [and] renovate" the license to protect innovation and is not a "defensive play".

In 2001, Bill Gates, Microsoft's chief software architect, said the The GPL was "Pac-man-like", as it undermined the intellectual property and royalty rights of developers. Despite this attack, the GPL has become widely used in commercial and non-commercial development. Some ISVs are now beginning to offer open source products under a dual license model that covers the GPL and a non-GPL "commercial" license. Moglen indicated there would be no compulsion for those with products licensed under GPL 2.0 to upgrade. He said differences between the two licenses would likely be "infinitesimal" but it would be "nice" if those using GPL 2.0 moved to GPL 3.0.

Moglen called GPL 2.0 a "US-centric" license that had performed well in different languages and internal legal markets, but that this could change.

"Internationalization has been sought... but it's a minefield. We will do what we can. It is among the most necessary in the reconsiderations and the revisions of GPL," Moglen said.

On web services, Moglen said GPL required a "single legal phrase" that satisfied companies with different definitions of what it means to run software in the kinds of distributed environments that are the bedrock of web services.

Security will also be a focus, as Moglen said GPL would address what he called "computers users can't trust" or "trusted computing". He appeared to rule-out support for digital rights management (DRM) technologies, that are designed to assign rights of access to code and content to users using different criteria.

"It's not our goal... to separate the world into permanently free and permanently unfree parts... our goal is to use freedom to spread freedom," Moglen said. ®

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