Second draft of GPL version three on the table

Written by Brett Thomas

July 28, 2006 | 15:09

Tags: #drm #fsf #gpl

Companies: #linus-torvalds

The world's most interesting license, the GPL, has been 'being updated' since January, by the Free Software Foundation. The license has not been updated within the last 15 years (it's now on version 2), and is now beginning to need to address things such as DRM.

And, of course, DRM is the natural sticking point. In the GPL, DRM is referred to as "Digital Restrictions Management" instead of "Digital Rights Management," a terminology that illustrates the lack of love for the concept amongst most open-source believers. In the first draft of the license submitted in January, the GPL was to state that no GPL licensed software could be used in code designed for copy protection.

However, after considerable feedback, the scope was broadened to "no denying users' rights through technical measures." The clause was expanded to prevent hardware chips that made sure a device would only run with a certain version of free software, such as PVRs. TiVo, for example, has used Linux since inception, but installed a chip to check a cryptographic sum of the build to make sure that it only ran TiVo's software. Basically, if your device runs any form of hardware permission check, you're in violation of the GPL.

Though this seems like a move aimed squarely to protect a user's rights to put free software on any machine they own, Linus Torvalds (the original designer of Linux, for those under a rock) feels it's gone too far. "I don't think it's my place as a software developer to judge how hardware works around it," he says.

The Free Software foundation disagrees. To the FSF, any type of technical checksum that would prevent a modified version of code from running is contrary to the license. Eben Moglen, the foundation's lead attorney, had this to say: "If you're keeping the right to modify and not conveying that right to modify, you're violating the license."

The third and final draft of the GPL v3 should be released sometime in late October. After the final hashing out of that draft, the new GPL v3 will be effective, likely right before 2007. Don't expect Linux to be affected, though... Mr. Torvalds has only licensed Linux specifically under GPL v2, as opposed to "v2 or later" as many things are designed.

Got a thought on the new changes? How about on Linux not adopting them? Does a split between the FSF and Linus Torvalds show a weakness in the open-source movement? Let us know your thoughts in our forums.
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