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FSF rebuts anti-GPL 3 claims

Free Software Foundation takes on prominent Linux programmers' complaints against new features.

The Free Software Foundation is seeking to counter recent claims of prominent Linux programmers who have argued vehemently against new features in an update of the widely used General Public License.

A foundation statement released Monday labels as "inaccurate information" some criticisms that 10 high-ranking Linux kernel programmers made Friday about the draft of GPL version 3. And Eben Moglen, the foundation's lawyer overseeing GPL 3, Tuesday that those programmers listen to others' opinions as well as issue their own.

"For my colleagues and fellow citizens who develop the Linux kernel, I have nothing but respect," Moglen said. "I ask them please to join the conversation that is going on, to listen to others whose views may not be theirs, and to help the community make the best possible choices about matters of deep common concern."

On Friday, 28 of 29 high-ranking Linux developers polled by leader Linus Torvalds said they shared his overall dislike for GPL 3. And 10 of them wrote a paper that criticized the current GPL 3 draft and urged the foundation to drop it.

The foundation's rebuttal is the latest in a struggle that has divided erstwhile allies in the realm of free and open-source software. The foundation is seeking to update its core license to prevent hardware companies from encroaching on the freedoms central to its mission, but the Linux programmers see the group's action as overstepping its bounds into the realm of hardware.

Digital rights management, technology that encrypts data or software to govern access to it, is one major bone of contention. According to the most recent GPL 3 draft, GPL-governed source code must include "any encryption or authorization keys necessary to install and/or execute modified versions from source code in the recommended or principal context of use." It adds: "The fact that a present in hardware that limits its use does not alter the requirement to include it in the corresponding source."

While the Linux kernel programmers argued that the GPL 3 draft inappropriately imposes restrictions on hardware makers, the foundation said hardware makers must not be permitted to benefit from GPL software freedoms without extending those freedoms to users.

"GPLv3 will prohibit certain distribution practices which restrict users' freedom to modify the code. We hope this policy will thwart the ways some companies wish to "use" free software--namely, distributing it to you while controlling what you can do with it," the foundation said. "Rather, it ensures you, as a user, are as free as they are."

The Linux programmers also expressed concern that a new patent provision in the draft GPL 3 poses risks to corporations' patent portfolios--a concern shared by Hewlett-Packard. The foundation said that interpretation is incorrect.

The GPL 3 "simply says that if someone has a patent covering XYZ, and distributes a GPL-covered program to do XYZ, he can't sue the program's subsequent users, redistributors and improvers for doing XYZ with their own versions of that program," the foundation said. "This has no effect on other patents which that program does not implement."