The GPL Keeps Me Awake At Night

Well, actually that confuses cause and effect. Anyway, a draft of the GPLv3 is out, and, at least at first glance I’m pretty impressed. Let’s add a break, since probably everyone’ll be throwing their two cents in soon enough anyway.
The GFDL’s problems don’t seem to be present, happuly: the DRM restrictions are limited to not granting permission to distribute illegal software, and not allowing you to distribute in ways that circumvent the GPL somehow (as well as a cute bit of judo against technological protection measures in general); and the source distribution requirements are just that you distribute both the binaries and source over the net concurrently, or when you’re distributing binaries by physical media, that you provide source as well, or the three year written offer. Invariant sections obviously don’t rate much of a mention.

The “extra restrictions” section (7) seems worded pretty well, and looks like it sorts out lingering doubts about compatability with BSD works, and provide some patent retaliation clauses that’re so popular now days. It also includes the ability to “require that the work contain functioning facilities that allow users to immediately obtain copies of its Complete Corresponding Source Code”, which, if used, may make the work non-free for Debian’s purposes (similar clauses in the Affero General Public License have been considered non-free in the past by Debian anyway); but since it’s an optional addition, that’s fine. Arguably it turns the GPL into a non-copyleft license from Debian’s perspective though — ie, you can take a free work under the GPLv3, and turn it into a non-free work. Personally, while I’m not remotely convinced this is a good thing to actually do, I’m also not sure it’s enough of a bother that we need to declare it non-free.

The other two areas of interest (to me) seem to be the changes to the “complete corresponding source” — which looks like it makes it a lot easier to run GPLed software on non-GPL/BSD kernels and libcs, such as OS X and OpenSolaris, though might also have some other oddities in its new found generality; and the changes to the notices required for interactive programs — with GPLv3, all programs have to have disclaimers, it’s not just a matter of keeping them if they’re already there.

One downside, though, is that it’s very clearly drafted by someone with legal experience — “the Complete Corresponding Source Code need not include a particular subunit if (a) the identical subunit is normally included as an adjunct in the distribution of … a major essential component … of the operating system on which the executable runs or a compiler used to produce the executable ….” Adjunct? Subunit? Geez.

Anyway, if the FSF follow through on addressing the community’s concerns and spend the rest of the year improving the draft, it looks like they’re back on top of the free software licensing game. This looks like it resolves a number of major problems with the GPL, and, so far at least, looks like at worst it only creates only a few minor ones in exchange.

Hrm, LWN has their first take up now too.

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