GPL 3 release, related thoughts

Tux
Recently the GPL 3 was released. While this was an important step for the Free Software Foundation others do have objections against the new licence.

The GPL 3 is the probably most discussed software licence of these days: it is the precious child of the Free Software Foundation and will most likely be adopted by the software projects which are closely related to the FSF, like the gcc development tools.
On the other hand big projects like the Linux kernel don’t have any plans to switch to the new licence.

Looking at the discussions it is hard to make an easy judgement about the pros and cons of the licence. However, I find some arguments of Linus Torvalds to be quite reasonable: for many and maybe even most of the projects the GPL v2 is simply just fine and works. It even worked in court and therefore fits to most needs.
Also it is about the code itself, and not about moral objections or theories: the GPL v3 additionally influences when you are allowed to use the code and when not (Tivoization):

Some devices utilize free software that can be upgraded, but are designed so that users are not allowed to modify that software. […] for example, sometimes the hardware checksums the software that is installed, and shuts down if it doesn’t match an expected signature. […]
When people distribute User Products that include software under GPLv3, section 6 requires that they provide you with information necessary to modify that software.

This is something I don’t like – while Stallman, the main person behind the GPL, mentioned that this was the basic idea of the GPL from the beginning, for me the GPL was always about the code itself and not the usage of the code with other hardware.

But there are also other objections in the FLOSS world against the GPL: some people in the BSD camp don’t like the new licence at all:

More threatened than anyone are free software projects that abhor licensing restrictions imposed by the GPL, such as the BSD variants.

The background of this fear is that there is one important difference between the BSD and the GPL idea: the BSD licence is all about giving credits to authors, while the GPL is all about staying open. Now while the BSD derivatives mainly consist of BSD licenced software some tools like the gcc collection are still necessary and are soon to be expected to be released under the GPL v3. And the BSD developers are now concerned that in this way the GPL v3 could influence their projects indirectly.
But according to the above linked text it doesn’t look like that the the BSD project leaders are too concerned about such possibilities.

Anyway, I don’t think that the new licence will influence the software industry as much as the GPL v2 did: the GPL v2 revolutionized the software industry and also the view on software in general. It changed the world.
The GPL v3 will continue the way which was begun by the GPL v2, but it will not create another revolution of any kind.
Also I doubt that the negative side effects of the licence are too bad and will harm the FSF – there were too many people, companies and lawyers involved with creating the GPL v3.
A good example that the GPL v3 matured over time and that the final version is even ok for some of the strongest critics is a recent statement by Linus Torvalds:

I was impressed in the sense that it was a hell of a lot better than the
disaster that were the earlier drafts. […]
I consider dual-licensing unlikely (and technically quite hard), but at
least _possible_ in theory.

So, after all, simply a new, interesting and long expected licence is now out. Congrats for that to the FSF!

4 thoughts on “GPL 3 release, related thoughts”

  1. “This is something I don’t like – while Stallman, the main person behind the GPL, mentioned that this was the basic idea of the GPL from the beginning, for me the GPL was always about the code itself and not the usage of the code with other hardware.”

    Code in isolation is pretty useless. You need the ability to run it for it to be meaningful. If hardware prevents that from happening the rights are effectively curtailed.

    The ability to modify code and run on the same hardware is sometimes not necessary and even problematic which the license does recognize in its attempt to define consumer products ( vs say a medical equipment). FSF has atleast attempted to find a good balance and the licensing review process itself is remarkable.

    “The GPL v3 will continue the way which was begun by the GPL v2, but it will not create another revolution of any kind.”

    Pretty much. As has been said repeatedly GPL v3 is not a fundamental change. A few clarifications that can be consider bug fixes was all it aimed for. If it manages to do that without creating problems, job done.

  2. Give it time. People still misunderstand the licence and fear change. There’s a lot of disinformation in the press and it’s no coincidence.

  3. Rahul: Yes, I know the reasons for the hardware part but that’s something you can discuss all night long without finding a common point. Some people see the need for that part, some don’t.
    And about “If it manages to do that without creating problems, job done.”: you’re totally right, I couldn’t find better words🙂

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