New open-source license targets DRM, Hollywood

Free Software Foundation's Eben Moglen says the updated GPL may put open-source products in conflict with movie studios and Tivo.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass.--The new version of the most widely used open-source license takes a "highly aggressive" stance against the digital rights management software that's widely favored in the entertainment industry, said Eben Moglen, general counsel for the Free Software Foundation.

At a two-day event here to launch the General Public License version 3, which governs use of countless free and open-source programs, Moglen said the license includes anti-DRM provisions that could put it in conflict with movie studios and even digital video recorder maker TiVo.

Eben Moglen
Eben Moglen
Free Software Foundation

On Monday, the Free Software Foundation published a draft of the GPL version 3, which is expected to be completed in about a year. The draft states that GPL software cannot use "digital restrictions" on copyright material unless users can control them.

Moglen said that DRM technology, which places limits on how consumers can play movies, music or other digital content, is "fundamentally incompatible" with the principles of the Free Software Foundation. Moglen and Free Software Foundation founder Richard Stallman are co-authors of the GPL version 3.

"Mr. Stallman made perfectly clear that his point of view is: It's enough. It's enough that the world has to pay attention to that (DRM) problem the way the world needed to pay attention to the patent problem 10 years ago," Moglen said in an interview with CNET News.com.

"I recognize that that's a highly aggressive position, but it's not an aggression which we thought up. It's a defense related to an aggression which was launched against the people whose rights are our primary concern," he added.

Moglen said DRM systems that take control out of people's hands or violate their privacy do not respect free software users' rights and therefore are in conflict with the forthcoming GPL provisions.

The planned anti-DRM changes to the GPL are significant because the entertainment industry regularly uses Linux-powered computers in the production process, notably for special effects and animation. In general, movie studios support DRM technology to prevent piracy.

It's not clear whether the Linux operating system kernel will be governed by version 3 of the GPL when the new license is released; creator Linus Torvalds specifically didn't follow the Free Software Foundation's recommendation to describe a software project as governed by version 2 or "any later version." However, many other components of the operating system, such as the GLIBC library of supporting software and the GCC compiler, are expected to move to GPL 3.

Moglen and Stallman have voiced concern specifically with TiVo, which uses Linux, because the company collects information on consumers' actions. Moglen said TiVo complied with version 2 of the GPL "by the skin of its teeth" and said the company will find more difficulty complying with GPL version 3's anti-DRM provisions.

"Having a personal video recorder which reports every button you push to headquarters when you use the remote control--and which won't run software if you modify the box so it snoops on you a little less--is not user-respecting conduct," he said.

"What TiVo needs to do--what everybody needs to do who makes electronic devices--is to stop injuring users to help movie companies. We don't want our software used in a way which batters the head of the user to please somebody else. Our goal is the protection of users' rights, not movies' rights," Moglen said.

He said Hollywood studios that use free software, namely Linux, to create animated movies yet deny users' freedoms are "flat unfair."

Separately, Moglen sought to allay concerns that the GPL version 3 requires application hosting companies to provide the source code for software delivered as a service over the Internet.

"It is clear that in this draft we have not changed those rules at all," he said.

CNET News.com's Stephen Shankland contributed to this report.

 

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