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Open sourcerers do battle for GPLv3

Perens weighs in

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Open source luminary Bruce Perens has come out fighting in defence of the latest draft of GPLv3.

The draft, which seeks to prevent patent protection deals like that struck late last year by Microsoft and Novell, has come under heavy fire from proprietary software advocates such as the ACT (Association for Competitive Technology).

ACT lawyers argue that GPLv3 might "create new liabilities for its drafters and users".

In a document drafted by Richard Wilder, an attorney at Sidley Austin and the intellectual property counsel for ACT, the association warns that the anti-MS/Novell clause could constitute tortious interference.

Perens disagrees: it is up to developers to chose to use GPLv3, or not, he says. No one is being forced to use it, so the warnings of potential tortious interference hold no water with him.

He told eWeek that ACT is a lobbying front for Microsoft: "Obviously, GPL software is displacing Microsoft enough to have them concerned, and it's doing it at customers who are important to them. A lawyer's job is to scare the other side if they can—because they know it's cheaper than winning a case in court."

Mountains and molehills

Mark Taylor, a former head of the Open Source Consortium in the UK, thinks the whole thing is being blown out of all proportion.

He told us: "The only people worrying about the GPL draft are people like ACT. Everyone else is really pleased with the draft. The original GPL aimed to prevent deals like the one between Novell and Microsoft. They just found a loophole. This draft closes it."

Taylor also believes that the test of the success of the draft will be in whether or not developers chose to use it. But he also notes that the draft is just that: a draft. The implication is that any issues that it might have will be hammered out of it by the free software community. After all, debugging complicated documents is what they do best.

But Wilder also suggests that the real aim of the Free Software Foundation is to stop links being built between the free and proprietary software worlds. Certainly, readers have suggested to The Register that the changes put in place to prevent new deals similar to the one between MS and Novell could undermine the open source movement by making it harder for those two groups to collaborate.

According to Wilder, the limitations imposed in GPLv3 are too strict, seeking to prevent deals between those patent holders "in the business of distributing software", while leaving the door open for similar deals by other parties.

Perens dismisses such concerns. He told eWeek: "It is now, and always has been, legal to make proprietary software that runs on a GNU/Linux system. Oracle does it with no problem, for example. That's not a bridge between the proprietary and open-source world? Why is that legal? Because the FSF made it so."

"What we really are hearing here is a representative for the world's biggest closed software company trying to make a case that the Free Software Foundation isn't open enough for them, when of course Microsoft does not give people anything close to the rights that FSF grants on every bit of software that they own." ®

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