Debate looms for GPL 3 draft

The first draft of GNU General Public License Version 3 will be unveiled this week at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass., but that milestone is likely to be more of a beginning than an ending.

The release of the draft will kick off months of debate over the content and exact wording of the license that will govern much open-source software for the foreseeable future.

This is the first time in 15 years that the GPL, which governs many open-source projects, including the Linux kernel, has been updated to reflect the current IT environment.

Sources said that the first draft will contain some type of patent protection and address the issues of intellectual property licensing, trusted computing and how to deal with software used over a network.

The authors of the first draft, Richard Stallman, the licenses original author, and Eben Moglen, the general counsel for the Free Software Foundation—both of whom will address attendees at the GPL event—would not confirm details of the draft, but it is expected to be fairly technical and complex in nature.

Moglen told eWEEK that the license needs to be changed to acknowledge that the art of computer programming has changed dramatically since 1991.

"Those changes in programming paradigms are neither better nor worse than the paradigms they replaced, or of those that will replace them going forward," Moglen said.

The license revision process is not expected to be without some controversy and disagreement, particularly about Web services and whether the new license is a strong "copyleft" one.

Copyleft is a method for making a program, and all its successive versions, free.

"I do not believe that we will reach consensus on this front, so I believe the license will have to accommodate options as to the question of web services, but this must be squared with the ideological pursuit of freedom," Moglen said.

The next version of the LGPL (Lesser GPL) will be completed in the same cycle as GPL Version 3, Moglen said, but it will be taken a little out of phase.

The issues around GPL 3 will likely be first discussed and then a draft version of LGPL 3 will likely be released, although no final decisions have been made on that.

The final version of GPL 3 will come out following a year of input, discussions and compromises from all relevant communities and just about anyone who wants to participate.

The goal is to have the new license in use by early next year, about the time Windows Vista ships and before Windows Server "Longhorn" heads out the door, thereby putting pressure on Microsoft Corp. and its proprietary licensing policy and constant-upgrade model, a source said.

Some Linux users, such as Con Zymaris, CEO of Cybersource Pty. Ltd., a Linux and open-source solutions company in Melbourne, Australia, said they believe that the GPL has precipitated a sea change in the understanding of IP.

But Zymaris cautioned that "it is because of this great importance that the next version of the license has to be seen to be the best possible implementation of the wishes and needs of the free software community. It can't impose painful measures, and it can't deviate from the spirit of the previous license, or it risks reduced uptake. Developers will still be able to resort to Version 2 of the GPL."

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