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GPLv3, Belfast, 19th January 2006

These are the notes I used for a talk given on the 19th of January 2006 after the release of the first public draft of GPLv3 and the launch of the GPLv3 public consultation process. The place was Northern Ireland, at the monthly meeting of a GNU/Linux user group in Belfast.

Update: For something a bit more up to date, see the transcript of the talk I gave in Tokyo in November 2006.

For information and resources on GPLv3, see FSFE's GPLv3 page.

Talk headings:

I've also added a short list of links at the bottom of the page.


Who am I?

The stakes

The changes

Software patents
GPLv2 had a tame patent clause. Today we're seeing some new free software licences with aggressive patent clauses, but these may backfire in practice. For example, if a patent holder sues me, and my licence penalises me if I initiate patent litigation, then I'm punished if I counter-sue. In that situation, the free software developer would be restricted, and the proprietary software developer would not be restricted. So GPLv3 has a strengthened patent clause, but it's still conservative. If we learn that a more aggressive clause would be better, that can be changed in GPLv4, I suppose, but for now, we have to make sure we do no harm.
Digital Restrictions Management (DRM)
The draft defines "Complete Corresponding Source Code" as including any codes necessary for using the software, modified or unmodified, so DRM is fine for personal use, but using it to restrict the freedoms that GPL is there to protect is not possible.
The draft also says that the covered software is not a "technical protection mechanism", and that the software cannot be used for the illegal invasion of privacy. These are both legal hacks, the first is a response to some specific legislation in the USA and the EU. The second looks like it's just stating the obvious, but what it actually does is it gives copyright holders the ability to enforce privacy laws when other parties neglect to do so.
Licence compatibility
As far as I know, every copyleft licence written after GPLv2 has been incompatible with GPLv2, except for those which have explicit compatibility clauses. Sometimes this is because of a matter of form, such as the warranty disclaimer being written differently, and sometimes it was a matter of substance, such as the addition of patent retaliation clauses. GPLv3 addresses this by saying that, provided the freedoms that the GPLv3 grants are left in-tact, copyright holders can write their own warranties and patent clauses. Some free software licences will still be incompatible, but two licences which Eben Moglen mentioned would now be compatible are the Apache Software License and the Eclipse Public License.
Internationalisation
There may be translations of GPLv3, or maybe not. Translating into another language creates a lot of room for errors, and makes reviewing the text more difficult. If there are translations, the strategy will probably be to have the translations only valid in countries where that language is an official language. This way, the impact of problems can be greatly limited.
Complexity and length
Everyone would like to see the GPL become shorter and simpler, but instead GPLv3 is longer and more complex. This is regretted, and if anyone has suggestions for shortening the licence, they will be very seriously considered, but the #1 priority has to be that the licence works. It has to have no loopholes, no shakey-bits, and it has to be enforceable in the legal systems of every country.

The coming process

Secrecy and transparency

Timeline

Information flow

What we can do



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