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Do You Have Questions You'd Like to Ask FSF About GPLv3?
Wednesday, April 04 2007 @ 12:12 AM EDT

****Questions and comments regarding GPLv3 draft 3 for FSF's Brett Smith go here. Note that there are new articles just below this one. We'll keep collecting your comments on GPLv3 until next Friday, and so I'll keep bumping this up to the top until then. So, you have to look below this one to find the new materials.****

Well, we've had some time to think about the new draft of GPLv3, and many of us have some questions. There is a new GPLv3 draft 3 FAQ that answers some questions that have already come up, like what do the brackets mean in the draft (that they are possible inclusions, but not certain - more on that in a minute).

But here's something even better. Brett Smith, Licensing Compliance Engineer for the FSF, invites your questions. Anything you'd like to know, you can ask. That way, we can avoid spinning our wheels and get certain answers to any questions we may have.

I'll leave the questions period open for a week and so I'll keep bumping this article up to the top of the line for seven days, and during that period you can keep adding questions or comments also. By that I mean that if you see a problem with the wording, or a loophole, please bring it up. Also, if you really dislike something in this draft or have a better idea, now is the time to raise the issue. This is still just a draft.

Keep in mind that all the corporate players have been putting their wants on the table, which you can discern from the rationale document. If you wish the license to reflect your needs and preferences as well, you need to express them, so that the license reflects the wishes all the members of the community. Or forever hold your peace.

Just kidding. Like *that* would ever happen.

At the end of the week, he'll provide answers.

Now, about those brackets in Section 11, here's what the FAQ says:

How do the new terms of section 11 affect the Microsoft-Novell deal?

We attack the Microsoft-Novell deal from two angles. First, in the fourth paragraph of section 11, the draft says that if you arrange to provide patent protection to some of the people who get the software from you, that protection is automatically extended to everyone who receives the software, no matter how they get it. This means that the patent protection Microsoft has extended to Novell's customers would be extended to everyone who uses any software Novell distributes under GPLv3.

Second, in the fifth paragraph, the draft says that you are prohibited from distributing software under GPLv3 if you make an agreement like the Microsoft-Novell deal. This will prevent other distributors from trying to make other deals like it in the future.

There is some bracketed text at the end of that paragraph which would let companies distribute GPLv3 software even if they have made such an arrangement, as long as the deal was made before March 28. A number of companies in the free software community are concerned that the language we've proposed would also target them because of other agreements they've made, like broad patent cross-licenses, that don't harm the community. This would have the side effect of allowing Novell to distribute software under GPLv3. We are still evaluating the risks and costs associated with this text, and look forward to additional feedback.

My personal feedback on the bracketed text in paragraph 5 is that we need to craft some precise language that will make it impossible for Novell to distribute software under GPLv3 unless it gets out of that noxious patent deal, while allowing nontoxic agreements to stand. My reasoning is that when folks get cute with the GPL, there should be consequences. It should never pay off. I see that draft 3 will result in consequences for Novell over time, but I'm not so sure from a PR standpoint that observers will connect the dots, and I think a statement needs to be made.

Otherwise, folks may get tempted to get cute over and over. By folks, I mean some corporate folks. If ethics, the GPL, and the longterm interests of the FOSS community are behind door one and a bag of money is behind door two, they choose door two obsessively, like endorphin-addicted mice that press the lever to get more endorphins instead of food and water, until they die. And one thing I've learned from doing Groklaw is that executives may sometimes opt to do very well personally, even as their company is kamikazied into a hole in the ground. So one must be realistic about what the dangers could be. I think making a clear statement now could prevent a lot of trouble down the road.

Paragraph 4 means Microsoft won't be able to get cute in the same way over GPLv3 code, but unless the kernel moves to v3, it can still do so over v2 code, or someone else's fancypants lawyers may have a different brainstorm for yet another diseased way to exploit a loophole we haven't noticed yet. So my question, to get the ball rolling, is would it be possible to simply mention the Novell-Microsoft deal by name and carve it out of the brackets? Once again, here is the wording of paragraph 5 of Section 11, and the brackets I'm talking about are at the very end:

You may not convey a covered work if you are a party to an arrangement with a third party that is in the business of distributing software, under which you make payment to the third party based on the extent of your activity of conveying the work, and under which the third party grants, to any of the parties who would receive the covered work from you, a patent license (a) in connection with copies of the covered work conveyed by you, and/or copies made from those, or (b) primarily for and in connection with specific products or compilations that contain the covered work, which license does not cover, prohibits the exercise of, or is conditioned on the non-exercise of any of the rights that are specifically granted to recipients of the covered work under this License, [unless you entered into that arrangement, or that patent license was granted, prior to March 28, 2007].

More reactions here. And here's a criticism of this draft having to do with the "ASP loophole". Microsoft finds it "unfortunate... that the FSF is attempting to use the GPLv3 to prevent future collaboration among industry leaders to benefit customers." Heh heh. Unfortunate for whom? That's the whole idea, bub. Oops. I mean, oh industry leader that is world-renowned for always seeking to benefit customers.

Please know that collaboration is fine, and in fact the only one holding that back is you, as far as I can tell. FOSS code is open and naked to the world already. So collaborate away. Really. Any time you are ready. I think the EU Commission has in mind sometime soon.

The issue is the patent agreement, not collaboration.

Where do Microsoft execs go to learn to speak like that? The sentence must make sense, while stating something that isn't quite so, or leaving out the most important bits. I think it must be as hard to learn as drinking water upside down to cure hiccups.

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