April 5, 2006

LinuxWorld: Moglen says GPLv3 will be on time

Author: Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier

Boston, Mass. -- Eben Moglen, president and executive director of the Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC), hosted a birds of a feather (BoF) presentation Tuesday at the LinuxWorld Conference & Expo to discuss the status of the GNU General Public License (GPL) version three draft process. According to Moglen, "Vista will be late, Office 12 will be late, but the GPL version three will be on time."

Prior to the BoF, I had an opportunity to sit down with Moglen to talk about the GPLv3, the SFLC, and a few other topics of interest.


The Free Software Foundation started work on the long-anticipated revision to the GPL in January, with a plan to have the license finished and in use by January 2007. Moglen says that the process is going smoothly, and he expects that the license will be done at the time.

In fact, Moglen says that the volume of commentary on the GPLv3 is less than he expected, though the quality of comments is actually better -- in part due to the tool that they're using for the public discussion.

The tool, Stet, was written specifically for the GPLv3 process. According to Moglen, Stet's requirement that users see the comments that have already been made on the license prior to adding their own has reduced the number of comments. The fact that users have to select a specific portion of the license to make comments about, he says, has also reduced the number of comments "we didn't need to see anyway."

Stet is not public at the moment, but Moglen says that the FSF will release the code under the GPL at a point in the near future. At the moment, Stet depends on an XML format that has no autogeneration tools, and which only works with the GPLv3 draft. Moglen says that the FSF intends to clean up the application and release it "soon."

DRM and patents

Moglen says that the process so far had made clear that the major issues with GPLv3 are DRM and patents, and a few people had asked why the license couldn't have been made more clear and compact. Moglen indicated that he'd welcome more input on how to make the GPLv3 more clear and compact, but said that they'd received very little of that sort of input so far.

However, Moglen didn't specify many changes that would show up in the next draft. The only change Moglen outlined specifically is in the DRM section, relating to invasion of personal privacy. Moglen says that it was an interesting possibility, to use copyright law to strengthen personal privacy, but ultimately not worth the disagreements likely to ensue over the provision.

Moglen also talked about comments that Linus Torvalds has made about the license, and how it would impact the GPLv3 if the kernel team does not adopt the GPLv3, since the Linux kernel is one of the projects that does not employ the "or any later version" language in the GPL.

Moglen says that "Linus said things that I take very seriously," though he didn't specifically address any of Torvalds comments, and emphasized that his goal is to make a better license, and if the kernel team does not adopt the GPLv3 "we didn't make a better license in their judgment."

In addition, Moglen mentioned that he had come into contact with the "perfect GPLv2 theory," which is essentially that the current version of the GPL is just fine the way it is. Moglen mentioned that was surprising, because it was coming from people who probably didn't express that position before the GPLv3 draft was introduced.

Changes to the LGPL and GFDL

The GPL won't be the only license receiving an upgrade. Moglen says that the FSF plans to release first drafts of new versions of the Lesser General Public License (LGPL) and the GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL) by July 1.

Moglen didn't say much about the drafts of those licenses, except that the new GFDL might solve some of the issues that have come up with the current GFDL. The Debian project, in particular, has had problems with terms in the GFDL relating to invariant sections in documents allowed by the license.

Other topics

The SFLC launched the Software Freedom Conservancy (SFC) last week, and Moglen says that the Conservancy may be "the biggest thing that happened this spring" for free software -- even taking into account the GPLv3.

Moglen says that the Conservancy is a low-cost way of providing services for free software developers that would be difficult and time-consuming for the developers to provide for themselves. Moglen also says that he hopes to see hundreds of projects take advantage of the SFC over time.

As for the LinuxWorld trade show itself, Moglen says that businesses are starting to understand the "why" of free software. Moglen says that, in the past, many of the attendees lacked an understanding of where Linux and the surrounding software had come from -- but that the awareness is growing, and that people are starting to understand the concepts of free software, even if they're not using the same language that Richard Stallman uses to talk about free software. "When they talk about avoiding vendor lock-in ... they're talking about freedom.... They may not use the words exactly, but they care more about freedoms than they used to."


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