New GPL takes shots at patents, DRM

The Free Software Foundation (FSF) on Monday released a draft version (http://gplv3.fsf.org/draft) of its new GPL (GNU General Public License) version 3 software license designed to address two increasingly important issues in the software industry: software patents and DRM (digital rights management).

This document is the first major revision to the popular software license in 15 years and, if adopted, will change the terms under which a variety of open-source software, including Linux, Samba and MySQL, is used. It was released Monday at the First International Conference for GPLv3, a two-day conference being held at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The draft includes a provision requiring some software distributors to "shield" software users against some patent infringement claims, and it also prevents GPL-licensed software from being used in DRM copy-protection software, called "digital restrictions management" software by the FSF.

"We are trying to do what we can, in a limited way, to use the freedoms that our license gives us to actively work against the spread of DRM restrictions," said Eben Moglen, an FSF board member and one of the authors of the draft.

The DRM restrictions send a message to device manufacturers who would like to use GPL-licensed software in their products, he said. "Don't try to say, 'We can make US$50 music players because the software comes to us cheaply,' and then handcuff the music and the users."

The provision will also discourage the use of GPL software in the creation of programs like Sony BMG Music Entertainment's XCP (extended copy protection) digital rights management application, said Karen Copenhaver, general counsel with intellectual property management vendor Black Duck Software Inc. Security problems with that program eventually led to the recall of millions of Sony music CDs.

The patent provision calls on software distributors who "distribute a covered work knowingly relying on a patent license," to "shield downstream users against [certain] possible patent infringement claims," according to the draft.

This provision is likely to kick off a lot of discussion, especially from large companies with patent portfolios, who may wonder exactly what they must do in order to "shield downstream users," Copenhaver said.

"This puts a real burden on them," she said. "The word 'shield' is pretty strong."

Moglen said that the language in this section will probably change by the time the final version of GPLv3 is released. "We think it's a serious problem; we don't have a solution to recommend," he said of the patent problem. "We regard today's draft as simply serving notice that this is a problem that can no longer be ignored."

The draft also includes new language designed to make the license less dependent on U.S. legal concepts and terms, as well as a provision relating to the use of GPL software for Web services, Moglen said.

Some observers had been expecting the draft to go into more detail on the subject of Web services, but Moglen said that the FSF elected to use a "narrow and targeted approach," in this area. "We did not want to take measures that would achieve little at the expense of a lot, and we believe that the very limited measure that we are taking will do something at very low cost."

At least one prominent open source developer seemed satisfied with the new GPL. "At first glance it looks really good," said Jeremy Allison, a lead developer on the Samba file and print server project. "There are some things we'd like to clarify but I can't see any reason why Samba wouldn't move forward with it," he said in an e-mail interview.

After reviewing comments, the FSF expects to publish a second and then final draft of the license by September, meaning that a final version of GPL version 3 could appear as early as October, Moglen said. Though the FSF has given itself until March 2007 to complete this work, Moglen predicted that the new license will "most likely" be finalized around January 2007.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Robert McMillan

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Stocking Stuffer

SmartLens - Clip on Phone Camera Lens Set of 3

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Aysha Strobbe

Microsoft Office 365/HP Spectre x360

Microsoft Office continues to make a student’s life that little bit easier by offering reliable, easy to use, time-saving functionality, while continuing to develop new features that further enhance what is already a formidable collection of applications

Michael Hargreaves

Microsoft Office 365/Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

I’d recommend a Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 and the new Windows 10 to anyone who needs to get serious work done (before you kick back on your couch with your favourite Netflix show.)

Maryellen Rose George

Brother PT-P750W

It’s useful for office tasks as well as pragmatic labelling of equipment and storage – just don’t get too excited and label everything in sight!

Cathy Giles

Brother MFC-L8900CDW

The Brother MFC-L8900CDW is an absolute stand out. I struggle to fault it.

Luke Hill

MSI GT75 TITAN

I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?