The GPL v3

So the GPL v3 is out and judging by the relative lack of discussion in the community few people in the community have any big beefs with it. Which is a good thing of course, Eben promised it to be mostly about clarification not about any change of direction and he delivered on that.

There was a lawyer who stated that the interesting part wasn’t really the new GPL, but the new LGPL, which I agree with. The LGPL has stayed unchanged for much longer and its language is much more obscure (it almost has to be read in the light of the GPL to be interpretable). The impact for businesses in and around Free Software will be much bigger if the LGPL changes in a significant way.

Anyway there are a couple of items I am a bit unhappy about regarding the new GPL. The first is the lack of any true clarification of the ‘system libraries clause’, while using X Windows and kernel as examples at least makes the intent a bit clearer, but personally I think they should seriously consider saying that any library standarized by the LSB for instance goes under this clause. And if X Windows is included I guess GTK+ and GStreamer is covered by it too.
And one could muse that if Qt is bundled by the distribution you target with a closed source application, then Qt too would be covered by that clause and thus removing the effects of the GPL upon your application. One could even say that this is the opinion of Troll Tech too, as the systems library clause was something they called upon in their defense when people said it was a license violation to ship GPL apps with Qt in the old days before the Qt relicensing.

Another item which I am not to impressed by is the patent protection one. I mean what exactly does it mean to ‘shield’ downstream users from 3rd party patents lawsuits ? Personally I would think something like the MPL mandatory LEGAL file can be seen as such a shield, as it shields people downstream in the sense that it informs them of what patents apply and thus lets them aquire their own patent licenses before getting sued. On the other hand I guess the FSF interprets it as getting a transferable patent license that follows the code (or maybe not, license compatability was a goal with the new GPL so my interpretation would make the GPL more MPL compatible).

The DRM clause I have to admit I consider posing from the FSF, mostly there to get cheers from the crowd. Yes, they have some clever wording and a good defense against DMCA suits over GPL code, but in reality implementing a DRM systems and licensing under the GPL is a very unlikely action to be undertaken by anyone, DRM clauses or not. For example for the DRM work we have been doing ourselves at Fluendo lately, the amount of time we spent pondering using the GPL for it can be measured in no bigger units than nanoseconds. I also think the new anti-DRM measurements might backfire on the FSF in the sense that it makes the use of the GPL license less likely for a lot of security related software too. The thing is that the vast majority of software developers are not lawyers and seeing statements about having to publish all keys etc., is likely to make them uncertain enough about the implications to decide to choose another license for their security software, no matter how little it has to do with DRM or not.

Of course I am not a laywer, so most of these observations might be completely wrong :)


#1 Phil on 01.19.06 at 03:23

I think the “you need to provide keys” clause was more concerned with keeping people safe from proprietary hardware. For instance, if you put Linux on an embedded system, but the system can only run signed binaries, it’s not much of a Free system.

#2 James Henstridge on 01.19.06 at 13:06

Saying “The GPLv3 is out” is a bit misleading. The first draft of the license has been released. The final version is still a fair way away.