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To read comments to this article, go here
About that Linus GPLv3 story making the rounds...
Thursday, January 26 2006 @ 07:52 PM EST

As soon as I saw it on the LKML, I knew Linus' statement that he wasn't planning on moving Linux to version 3 of the GPL would make headlines. It's the down side of fame that you can't just let your hair down and talk openly about anything without someone making it a news story.

I'm being ever so quiet about GPLv3 so far. I know, I just know, that if I write the simplest thing that can be taken as a negative about the wording of the license, some journalist looking for a story will make one out of it, and the headline will be, PJ DISSES GPL or PJ AND LARRY ROSEN CLASH OVER GPLv3 or something equally silly. And that makes it harder to talk and cooperate with others in public.

So let me explain something to you. The GPLv3 that we have now is just a draft. No one can adopt or reject it yet, because it's just a draft. It's like you went to your lawyer and asked for a contract to buy a house. He draws it up and sends it to you for your approval, and you see some things you aren't happy with. So you decide not to buy the house? No, silly, you tell your lawyer the changes you'd like so he can fix the wording. That's exactly what is happening here.

Now this process is a little different in that with a house contract, the person you are buying from doesn't get to listen while you talk to your lawyer about the contract. Here, every GPL hater and net kook does. It's also different because Richard Stallman gets final say, whereas your lawyer has to do what you want, subject to the law. But just as you can't get your lawyer to insert an illegal clause because he has obligations to something higher than to you, in the same way, rms won't let us put in anything that destroys the freedoms associated with the GPL. A lot of people depend on those freedoms and released their code under the GPL because of those freedoms, including Linus, because one of the freedoms is that no one can take the code away and slap a proprietary license on it. Not that some folks wouldn't love to do that.

So if anyone doesn't like the wording of the current draft, here's a suggestion: go to the FSF GPLv3 site for comments or email them and tell them what you don't like or do like. In this case, I think Linus misunderstood the wording of the draft, frankly, but that's easy to do. One thing that might help is if you look at the draft with the rationale side by side, which you can do here.

Linus seems to think you have to turn over your private key, such as one might use to sign off on code. That's not my understanding of the clause about DRM at all. I see no wording saying that. Of course, I'm still getting up to speed myself on the GPLv3. My current understanding of the DRM clause is just that if you can't run a program without a private key, you have to be given the key. And no invasions of user privacy are allowed. One key to the purposes of the DRM clause is stated in part in the rationale like this:

If a covered work is distributed as part of a system for generating or accesssing certain data, the effect of this paragraph is to prevent someone from claiming that some other GPL'd program that accesses the same data is an illegal circumvention.

Here's every word I can find about DRM in v3, taken from Groklaw's comparative chart:

Some countries have adopted laws prohibiting software that enables users to escape from Digital Restrictions Management. DRM is fundamentally incompatible with the purpose of the GPL, which is to protect users' freedom; therefore, the GPL ensures that the software it covers will neither be subject to, nor subject other works to, digital restrictions from which escape is forbidden....

Complete Corresponding Source Code also includes any encryption or authorization codes necessary to install and/or execute the source code of the work, perhaps modified by you, in the recommended or principal context of use, such that its functioning in all circumstances is identical to that of the work, except as altered by your modifications. It also includes any decryption codes necessary to access or unseal the work's output. Notwithstanding this, a code need not be included in cases where use of the work normally implies the user already has it....

3 Digital Restrictions Management.

As a free software license, this License intrinsically disfavors technical attempts to restrict users' freedom to copy, modify, and share copyrighted works. Each of its provisions shall be interpreted in light of this specific declaration of the licensor's intent. Regardless of any other provision of this License, no permission is given to distribute covered works that illegally invade users' privacy, nor for modes of distribution that deny users that run covered works the full exercise of the legal rights granted by this License.

No covered work constitutes part of an effective technological protection measure: that is to say, distribution of a covered work as part of a system to generate or access certain data constitutes general permission at least for development, distribution and use, under this License, of other software capable of accessing the same data....

You may copy and distribute a covered work in Object Code form under the terms of Sections 4 and 5, provided that you also distribute the machine-readable Complete Corresponding Source Code (herein the "Corresponding Source") under the terms of this License, in one of these ways:...

Distribution of the Corresponding Source in accord with this section must be in a format that is publicly documented, unencumbered by patents, and must require no special password or key for unpacking, reading or copying.

eWeek's Peter Galli did an article on the DRM clauses and corporate reactions, if you'd like to read a bit more about it. By the way, the latest on the Broadcast Flag is here, speaking of DRM.

In any case, no one has to switch their code to GPLv3 unless they feel like it, and I wasn't expecting it to happen with the kernel. It's an option for those that wish to switch. GPLv2 will always be here, if anyone prefers it. You use what works best for you. Licenses don't stop being supported, like software versions. You can use 2 forever if you want to and don't need what 3 offers.

But more importantly, it's a license that is being publicly edited. If you don't like something in the draft, tell them. Committee A, which I'm on, will be looking over all that you submit and evaluating whether it's an issue that needs to be addressed in the draft and making recommendations to the FSF, kind of like code submitted to the kernel goes through lieutenants before it gets to Linus. So comment away. The FSF is definitely wanting to hear from us.

And keep in mind that lots will be said. This is a public process. But there is nothing written in stone yet, so there is nothing to fight about or to take a stand on. So when you see comments about the draft from someone whose name you recognize, it doesn't mean they hate the GPL or v3. They can't hate v3, because it's not done yet. It probably means they are just brainstorming either to try to understand it or with the goal of making it better so that the SCOs of this world will never get a stranglehold on code that thousands of good-hearted men and women wrote so we could have a free operating system and lots of wonderful applications to run on it. Or they're just thinking out loud. Even famous people should be allowed to do that, I think. Once v3 is done, everyone can decide what they wish to do. It's all about freedom, after all. And that means you get to choose what you want.


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