July 16, 2007

GPL v3: A mess of your own making...

The GPL v3 was ratified and released a few weeks ago by the Free Software Foundation - which owns, and upgraded to GPL v3, the copyrights to an important swath of Open Source Software (OSS).

The intent of the GPL (GNU Public License) all along has been to empower people who were using software released under GPL ("copyleft" software) to make modifications to said software, and to use and redistribute modifications and improvements to others, for collective benefit. The primary legal intent of this latest revision, as I had mentioned previously, was to close the server and computing devices "holes" in previous versions - whereby companies were:

(a) using GPL software on their servers, but NOT releasing changes or improvements (because they were not distributing the software - which was the previous trigger for obligating a company to share its improvements to any GPL software) to anyone, per se, but rather letting users consume software services remotely, and/or

(b) preventing (effectively) modification and re-distribution of the software because their device was in some way preventing any modified software being loaded or running on the device (so called "TiVo-ization").

There are other OSS licenses which were always intended to be less radical: BSD, MIT, ZLIB, MPL, etc. These licenses have always been of the "do-what-you-want-but-its-not-our-fault" variety, and have arguably been as successful with their projects as the GPL - and the GPL has often been described as "viral" in that any GPL code may not be linked with non-GPL code.

But that's not the point.

The point is that they revised the license to close the loophole. And from there, much hilarity ensued:

Microsoft statement about GPLv3
Groklaw on Microsoft and GPLv3
GPL: fear is the key

Linux creator calls GPLv3 authors "Hypocrites"
Apple and the GPL

So, to summarize: group that OWNS the copyright to some software closes a loophole in how they intended that software to be consumed - and everybody's pissed (note that this is NOT retroactive - nor could it be; that's part of the intent of the philosophy of the license!). The big problem, of course, is all the folks who mistook the GPLv2 as (a) giving them rights they weren't supposed to have (e.g. using it to build closed source server software) and/or (b) took the license as contract for future commitments.

Oops. Sorry.

(btw, Linus Torvalds, of Linux fame, expressly does NOT seem to be confused. He just doesn't like it - and as copyright holder to the Linux kernel, he's free to do as he chooses - and I suppose to make overwrought analogies.)


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