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GPLv3 Guidelines Released
Wednesday, November 30 2005 @ 11:09 AM EST

The guidelines for revising the GPL have been released. This isn't the first draft; it's the explanation of how the process is going to work. You can get a copy by registering at their site. The benefit of doing it that way is that you then will receive future information as it becomes available. But I'm making it available here [PDF] also, to spread the information widely.

MIT will be hosting the launch event of version 3 of the GNU General Public License, the first public discussion, on January 16-17, 2006, from 9-4:30 MIT Campus Room 10-250. Lots more information about it is here. Pre-registration for the free event is a good idea, they suggest, because obviously space is limited.

Why involve the public? They didn't do that when they came up with v2, after all.

The introduction of the guidelines explains:

Richard M. Stallman, who founded the free software movement and who was the author of the GNU GPL, released version 2 in 1991 after taking legal advice and collecting developer’s opinions concerning version 1 of the license, which had been in use since 1989. Given that the Free Software Foundation directly controlled the licensing of the GNU project, which comprised the largest then-existing collection of copylefted software assets, no public comment process and no significant interim transition period seemed necessary. The Free Software Foundation immediately relicensed the components of the GNU Project and in Finland Linus Torvalds adopted GPL Version 2 for his operating system kernel, called Linux.

Many provisions of the GPL could benefit from modification to fit today’s circumstances and to reflect what we have learned from experience with version 2. Given the scale of revision it seems proper to approach the work through public discussion in a transparent and accessible manner.

The Free Software Foundation plans to decide the contents of version 3 of the GPL through the fullest possible discussion with the most diverse possible community of drafters and users. A major goal is to identify every issue effecting every user, and to resolve those issues.

For these reasons, the process of GPL revision will be a time of selfexamination. Consequently, the process of drafting and adopting changes must be as close to “best practices” as possible, for both lawyers and lay people. Experience has thrown new light on the text of the current GPL. The utility of some provisions has altered over time, while others need to increase their reach in order to protect freedom in the new world of software. Most of the issues caused by this gradual development of the software world can be addressed with minor changes in the text of the GPL.

People who use software, whether they receive copies on CD, or interact with remote installations of the software, have the right to share and improve that software. (Clearly, many, perhaps most, will not modify software; but they share it and desire fixes and improvements. This means they and others must have the right.)

While the GPL is the most popular Free Software License, followed by the LGPL, a significant set of free software is licensed under other terms which are not compatible with version 2 of the GPL. Version 3 of the GPL will provide compatibility with more non-GPL free licenses.

The objectives they are striving for are:

  • A global license
  • Protection of existing freedoms
  • Do no harm
  • Consulting the Community

That last means you, and they'd like to hear from everyone, users and programmers, individuals and companies. That input will then be reflected in ongoing drafts of the license, which will be released for further discussion. There will be two drafts, for sure, and perhaps more. If you can't get to MIT, don't worry. It will all be available publicly on the website:

All consultation with parties outside the Free Software Foundation and the Software Freedom Law Center concerning each discussion draft will be a matter of publicly accessibly record available from Written deliberations from the Discussion Committees will also be available at; sound and video recordings of live events and deliberation may become available at a later time. We expect to develop this license through public discussion in a transparent and accessible manner. To that end every effort will be made to make public all documents pertaining to the process.

The process is expected to be finished in January-March, 2007. What about the LGPL? Does it need revising too? It's a possibility:

The Free Software Foundation may present drafts of LGPL along with drafts of GPL subsequent to the first discussion draft of GPLv3. Such drafts would also be subject to public comment and issue resolution.

So, from now on, the process is public. You can't just email Eben and tell him what you want. Neither can IBM or Google or anyone:

During this process the Free Software Foundation will make public statements concerning the process, deadlines, issues, comments, and drafts. Such public statement will be made through announcements at, and by messages to mailing lists to which parties can subscribe. The Free Software Foundation and SFLC will not hold confidential communications with others concerning version 3 of the GPL. Public commentary on these announcements, as with all comments relating to the GPL version 3 discussion process, should be routed through the GPL comment system described in section 4.1.

Here's the press release.


Free Software Foundation Releases Guidelines for Revising the Widely Used GNU GPL First Public Discussion Scheduled for January

BOSTON and NEW YORK - November 30, 2005 - The Free Software Foundation (FSF) and the Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC) today released a document specifying the process and guidelines for revising the Foundation's GNU General Public License (GNU GPL). The FSF will release the first discussion draft of the new license for comment at the International Public Conference for GPLv3 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) on January 16 and 17, 2006.

The GNU GPL is the most widely used Free Software license worldwide: Almost three quarters of all Free Software programs (also known as Free and Open Source Software, or FOSS) are distributed under this license. Since the GPL's last revision more than 15 years ago, software development and the business of distributing software have changed dramatically. Research firm Gartner recently predicted that by 2010 more than 75 percent of IT organizations will have formal acquisition and management strategies dealing with Free Software. As a result, business enterprises, as well as individual users and developers, will have an interest in the content of the new license.

"The guiding principle for developing the GPL is to defend the freedom of all users," said Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software Foundation. "As we address the issues raised by the community, we will do so in terms of the four basic freedoms software users are entitled to -- to study, copy, modify and redistribute the software they use. GPLv3 will be designed to protect those freedoms under current technical and social conditions and will address new forms of use and current global requirements for commercial and non-commercial users."

After publishing the first discussion draft of the GPL in January, the FSF will begin a structured process of eliciting feedback from the community, with the goal of producing a final license that best defends freedom and serves community and business. The process will include public discussion, identification of issues, considerations of those issues, and publication of responses. Publication of the second discussion draft is expected by summer 2006 and a last call, or final discussion draft, will be produced in the fall of 2006. The final GPLv3 license is expected no later than spring 2007.

The document being made public today, "GPLv3 Process Definition," outlines the principles, the timeline and the process for public comment and issue resolution and can be viewed at . Individuals may also register here for the first International Public Conference to take place in January.

"It is an exciting time in the history of software, particularly in the history of the Free Software movement," said Eben Moglen, general counsel to the Free Software Foundation and founding director of the Software Freedom Law Center, which is providing logistical support and legal advice to the Free Software Foundation. "Through this process, all voices will be heard. We will evaluate every opinion and will consider all arguments in light of the GPL's goals. The process is accessible, transparent and public for all those who want to participate."

Free software community projects, global 2000 companies and individual developers, as well as non-governmental organizations (NGOs), government agencies, small business and individual users will be invited to participate in the revising process of GPLv3. Individual comments will be reviewed and addressed primarily through committees to be set up at the MIT conference. Additionally, individual comments can be submitted on the GPL website at or during one of the many public meetings being held internationally.

"The General Public License is a groundbreaking legal document that has been the cornerstone of the free software movement and has created extraordinary amounts of change in the industry," said Jim Harvey, a partner with Alston & Bird and the leader of its Open Source practice. "It is time, though, to analyze and address the legal and business issues that are raised by the use of free software across the globe and the valuable and critical business transactions that routinely transpire under the GPL."

"As a leading supporter of free and open source software and the community, and a big proponent of the GPL and of license reform, HP is pleased to see that the Free Software Foundation has developed an inclusive and transparent process for updating the GPL -- a process that should increase confidence in the GPL and further enhance cooperative development activities," said Christine Martino, vice president of Linux and Open Source, HP. "Participating in the development and distribution of free and open source software is something HP focuses on every day, and we look forward to what the community will accomplish with GPLv3."

"The market has validated the free software model laid out in the GPL as a powerful choice for developing enterprise software," said Joe LaSala, general counsel for Novell. "Novell is a strong supporter of the GPL, and has contributed millions of lines of code under the GPL. We applaud Richard Stallman and the Free Software Foundation for involving the free software community in creating the next version of the GPL. Novell looks forward to actively participating in that process."

"This is an extremely important event that will have a huge impact on the future of free software, and I'm delighted that the FSF has chosen to follow such an open process and consult so widely," said Gary Barnett, IT research director at Ovum. "Because this process is both inclusive and public, the FSF is ensuring that the views of everyone with an interest in the future of the GPL can participate in defining the next generation of the license."

"The enormous contribution of Richard Stallman and the Free Software Foundation to software development, innovation and freedom is beyond question," said Michael Cunningham, Red Hat general counsel. "We welcome the FSF's announcement of efforts to improve the GPL through an open, inclusive and international public process committed to the software freedoms that have made the GPL successful."

About the Free Software Foundation

The Free Software Foundation, founded in 1985, is dedicated to promoting computer users' right to use, study, copy, modify, and redistribute computer programs. The FSF promotes the development and use of free (as in freedom) software - particularly the GNU operating system and its GNU/Linux variants - and free documentation for free software. The FSF also helps to spread awareness of the ethical and political issues of freedom in the use of software. Their Web site, located at , is an important source of information about GNU/Linux. Donations to support their work can be made at Their headquarters are in Boston, MA, USA.

About The Software Freedom Law Center

The Software Freedom Law Center - directed by Eben Moglen, one of the world's leading experts on copyright law as applied to software - provides legal representation and other law-related services to protect and advance Free and Open Source Software. The Law Center is dedicated to assisting nonprofit open source developers and projects. For criteria on eligibility and to apply for assistance, please visit the website at

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