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Critics swarm new GPL draft

How free is free under GPLv3?

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The Free Software Foundation (FSF) has been accused of working to prevent co-operation between the free and proprietary software sectors, thanks to new terms in the latest draft version of the GNU GPL.

Unsurprisingly, the speediest criticism came from Microsoft, whose deal with Novell prompted the inclusion of the controversial clauses in the first place.

Horacio Gutierrez, Microsoft's vice president of intellectual property and licensing, told eWeek: "We note that the draft of the GPLv3 does not tear down the bridge Microsoft and Novell have built for their customers. It is unfortunate, however, that the FSF is attempting to use the GPLv3 to prevent future collaboration among industry leaders to benefit customers."

Microsoft holds that Linux infringes several of its patents and late last year signed a deal with Novell, under which Novell's customers were indemnified against legal action by Microsoft. Novell was roundly criticised at the time: the Open Source sector felt that the deal was a tacit admission that Linux does infringe Redmond's IP, something Novell has strenuously denied.

Many also felt the deal ran counter to the spirit of the GPL, even if it was technically compliant. Jeremy Allison, now ex-head of Novell's Samba team, resigned in protest. He said in a memo: "We can pledge patents all we wish, we can talk to the press and 'community leaders', we can do all the right things w.r.t. all our other interactions, but we will still be known as GPL violators and that's the end of it."

Novell maintains that the agreement did comply with the terms of the GPL, specifically the requirement that all recipients of the code should be treated equally, since there was no agreement between Novell and Microsoft, just between Microsoft and Novell's customers.

The new draft specifically prohibits deals like the one done by Microsoft and Novell from now on.

Morgan Reed, executive director of The Association for Competitive Technology said the new terms mean the GPL "no longer just defines freedom; it is designed to punish companies and business models that Richard Stallman just doesn't like".

The FSF's Richard Stallman believes the foundation had to do something. He argues that there are four "defining freedoms" to free software: the freedom to run the program as you see fit, study and adapt it for your own purposes, redistribute copies to help your neighbour, and release your improvements to the public.

"The recent patent agreement between Microsoft and Novell aims to undermine these freedoms. In this draft, we have worked hard to prevent such deals from making a mockery of free software," he said.

The second draft of GPLv.3 is just that, a draft. There is a 60 day period during which suggestions can be submitted. You can comment on the draft here. ®

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