Linux Developers Tackle GPL 3

    January 25, 2006
    WebProNews Staff

Some developers in the Linux community have taken the discussion about the new General Public License terms to a contentious point: using it for the next Linux kernel, while a greater challenge over DRM looms.

The first draft of the GPL version 3 terms crafted by Richard Stallman and Eben Moglen became public last week, as a conference held at MIT. This work represents the first update to the GPL in fifteen years, the Free Software Foundation said on its website.

Universal acceptance of the initial draft may be a while in arriving. There’s plenty of time to gain more acceptance, since a final version won’t be available for another 12 months. This leaves ample time for developers who currently question whether GPL 3 may find a place eventually in the Linux kernel.

ZDNet UK noted how a couple of prominent developers raised the issue of gaining permission from copyright holders to shift the Linux kernel’s licensing terms from the present GPL 2 incarnation to GPL 3.

It may be a moot point anyway, as respected developer Alan Cox pointed out in responding to those comments on the Linux kernel mailing list. “Very few people specifically put their code [GPL]v2 only, and [Linux creator] Linus’ [Torvalds] edit of the top copying file was not done with permission of other copyright holders anyway so really only affects his code if it is valid at all,” he wrote.

A bigger issue rising on GPL 3’s horizon will be digital rights management (DRM), which Stallman and Moglen call “digital restrictions management. Ars Technica touched on the “hot-button” issue in story post on GPL 3:

The wording of the language makes it clear that GPL3 is aiming to exclude software and products that utilize DRM. This is not entirely surprising, as Richard Stallman, the creator of the original GPL and one of the two co-authors of GPL3, already hinted as such. “We might put in something refusing to allow DRM modifications. Maybe, maybe not,” he said in an interview in April 2005. The use of the word “Restrictions” instead of “Rights” in the DRM acronym appears to further enforce their anti-DRM position.

Ars Technica extended the DRM issue to Torvalds himself, by noting his general distancing from the topic:

Interestingly, Linus himself has a very hands-off approach to DRM. In a statement on a Linux developer mailing list, he stated that he has no strong feelings on the issue one way or another, and resented people trying to turn Linux into an anti-DRM crusade:

“I’ve had some private discussions with various people about this already, and I do realize that a lot of people want to use the kernel in some way to just make DRM go away, at least as far as Linux is concerned. I also don’t necessarily like DRM myself, but I still ended up feeling the same: I’m an “Oppenheimer”, and I refuse to play politics with Linux, and I think you can use Linux for whatever you want to.”

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David Utter is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business.