CyberTech Rambler

June 1, 2007

GPL v3 Final Draft

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 7:17 pm

At last, the final draft of GPL version 3 is available. I know this is the final mile and not the finished article, and it is perhaps too early to start a review of the whole process, but we have a few conclusions that are not the subject of debate anymore:

  • It is one of the few licenses that takes internationalization seriously and might had done it in a novel way, i.e., writing one license that accommodate differences in copyright law. Previous effort in internationalization, such as that by Creative Common, is normally to write a new license for every jurisdiction. In fact, since Eben Moglen is a university professor, I will not be surprise that he publish the experience of the whole process in a law journal. It certainly contains academically interesting points.
  • It is one of the license that tries to satisfy the needs of a large spectrum of people, including commercial developers, free software philosopher, hobbyist programmers and professional programmers. This itself is a big undertaking. Most license are written to satisfy the need of the person who open source the license. Open source licenses tends to take the need of the people who uses the license into account as well. With GPL, there is a need to juggle the need of both parties and the view of philosophers such as Richard Stallman. Technically speaking, FSF need not attempt this. They have the rights to impose whatever conditions they want on the softwares they own the copyright to. Kudos to FSF for listening to everyone.
  • It generates a lot of discussion points. Most prominently is the Patent issue and Digital Restriction Management. With Patent I don’t mean the MS-Novell agreement, which I will treat separately later, but discussion on the impact of patents on free software.

So far, I had only listed the good points. The bad point, in my opinion, is the counter maneuver to oppose MS-Novell agreement. I do not like the MS-Novell agreement at all. In my opinion, Novell has the most to blame. This deal is at best against the spirit of Free and Open Source Software, and at worst a betrayal by Novell. As for Microsoft conduct, on the deal per se it did nothing wrong as it is a competitor to GPL software and will pull tricks to win. The bad things that comes out is the Patent FUD campaigning accompanying the deal.

Back to GPLv3. I do not like any license having clauses specifically targeted at another license. I think it is rather narrow minded to do so. It is true that the clause targeting the agreement is one that we should have to plug the hole exploited in this agreement, but too much emphasis had been made that the clause is targeting THAT agreement. I don’t like this emphasis. I am glad that the emphasis of the clause is now shifting back to the fact that it is trying to prevent unethical behaviour in this final draft. Based on the fact that a “granddad arrangement” is available in the previous discussion draft, I am sure Eben Moglen believe that the correct way to deal with MS-Novell deal is to force both MS and Novell to consider what will happen if Novell distributed GPLv3 software, the way it is sold to open source developers (well, at least to me) could had been better. The way it is done means a lot of people like me had focussed on comparing the wording of GPLv3 against what is known about the MS-Novell agreement, thus missing the big picture: the unethical behaviour. Now that the focus is shift towards the coupons having no expiry date and its implication is a mixed blessing: At last we can evaluate that clause objectively, but we are going into the petty business of nitpicking the MS-Novell agreement even more. In some way this sounds like sweet revenge: MS nitpicked the GPLv2, and that it is torpedo by something it missed and nitpicked by FSF. Perhaps another moral story is that MS fell on its own sword. Another sweet note will be it spent years to pick apart GPLv2, but it took only a few months to torpedo it.

Well, let the discussion on the final draft begin. We surely have not heard the last of it.

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