InformationWeek for Mach 19, 2007 had an interesting article titled “What Will Drive Open Source?” by Charles Babcock, which discussed the controversy that has been created with the proposal of GPLv3 (General Public License 3). A GPL is (according to Wikipedia) “a widely-used free software license, originally written by Richard Stallman (his personal page is here) for the GNU project.” Basically it’s a license that was written to go along with the GNU project which aimed at unifying similar licenses so that code from different versions of GNU could be shared freely.The GPLv1 was released in 1989, and it aimed at preventing the two main ways in which software was made restricted to users, by making them only executable, but not modifiable, and by adding legal restrictions to the license. This first version wanted to make the source code available to users, and prevent restrictions from being added to the license. GPLv2’s main difference from the original once was the “Liberty of Death” clause which stated that if a distributor was legally obligated to restrict the source code to users, then it couldn’t distribute it at all. This version was released in 1991.The article I read focused on GPLv3 and the controversy around it. GPLv3 is currently being worked on by Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software Foundation, and others. GPLv3 has run into disfavor by proposing a prohibition on the use of Digital Rights Management (DRM) technology along with GPLv3. (DRM prevents users from copying, copyrighted material.) Another aspect of GPLv3 tries to foresee all future attempts to patent it, and forbid this, a move some say is unrealistic and will instead make the license too restrictive. Another main aspect of GPLv3 is its “giveback provision”, which will affect huge internet corporations like Google and Yahoo. The provision aims at addressing the fact that companies like Google and Yahoo have greatly benefited from GPL code and have modified it to their benefit without being forced to make these alterations public, since they do not distribute products based on this code. This particular provision would also affect all other kinds of private companies.
GPLv3 is still in the works, and in the mean time it’s creating a lot of tension within the Open Source community; we’ll have to wait to see how this plays out.
(This post was originally used for my technology class.)