The next version of the GPL (General Public License), GPL 3, is likely to appear in early 2007, according to a board member of the Free Software Foundation (FSF) who is working on drafting the future release.
The GPL is the most popular license for free software and was created by Richard Stallman in 1989 for the GNU free software operating system project. Version 2 of the GPL appeared in 1991.
"Version 2 has now been running for [nearly] 15 years without substantial modification," said Eben Moglen, a member of the board of the Free Software Foundation and a professor of law and legal history at Columbia University Law School. "It [GPL 2] has successfully been used to go from a world in which free software was a very marginal community to one in which everyone, everywhere is aware of it."
Moglen, Stallman and other members of the FSF are working on drafting GPL 3. Moglen, the chair of the Software Freedom Law Center, is due to give a talk at the LinuxWorld show next week in San Francisco on drafting the new version.
"We need to globalise GPL," Moglen said. "GPL 2 has elegantly worked outside of the US in Europe and elsewhere, but it needs to become a bit more legally cosmopolitan" so that the license is more accessible to lawyers around the world, he added.
"The GPL depended heavily on the Berne Convention, but it's still speaking language very reminiscent of US copyright law," Moglen said. "The GPL needs to recognise global copyright more explicitly. It sounds strange to lawyers in some countries." The FSF also needs to clarify some language in the license that some English-speaking lawyers have had trouble with, he added.
GPL 3 will also need to reflect changes in technology, most notably the emergence of Web services, according to Moglen. The GPL grants users freedom to copy, modify and share software, but FSF needs to determine the situation when what's being redistributed is not a copy of the software itself but a service based on that software.
Moglen has already received a flood of suggestions about GPL 3, he said. He expects to receive more than 150,000 comments on the draft license, with as many as 8,000 organisations wanting their views to be heard. "They think of GPL in terms of their own experience as developers, businesspeople and users," he said. "We want to capture that and the full reach of the community, running all the way from IBM and HP to the Linux user group of Nairobi."
The discussion of GPL 3 by groups around the world will reveal how "genuinely multicultural" the Free Software Foundation is, he added.
"It will be a shock to everyone just how large and powerful a community [the free software movement] is," he said.
Over the next several months, Moglen, Stallman and other FSF members will come up with a first draft for GPL 3, he said. Moglen also plans to announce the formation of a number of advisory committees in relation to GPL 3.
"We'll release the first discussion draft very late this year or very early next year," Moglen said. "We'll provide an extensive rationale as to why we made the choices we made and, in a limited way, why we didn't include some other suggestions."
There will then be about a year of what Moglen called "intense moderated dialogue" about the draft. "I hope and believe we'll release GPL 3 in early 2007," he said.