Linux lab: GPL clarification needed ASAP

Open Source Development Labs calls for explanation of how to mix code governed by current and next GPL.

Stephen Shankland principal writer
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Stephen Shankland
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The Free Software Foundation urgently needs to explain how software governed by the current General Public License will interact with that governed by a successor now under development, the leader of the Open Source Development Labs said Wednesday.

The General Public License (GPL) governs innumerable projects in the open-source and free- software realms. The most notable example is the Linux kernel, but it also covers major projects such as the GCC compiler, the Samba file server software and the MySQL database. GPL version 2 was published in 1991, and the foundation is drafting a successor to tackle new issues such as software patents and digital rights management.

FSF attorney Eben Moglen met members of a committee of corporate powers on Tuesday and Wednesday in Chicago, said OSDL Chief Executive Stuart Cohen. There, they raised an issue that ODSL has heard about from many concerned parties, Cohen said: How will GPL 2 and GPL 3 software coexist?

"We've been at this nine months. It's time to get specific. It's time for the FSF to write it down and say what the rules are," Cohen said.

Moglen, however, has a different assessment and indicated he's not likely to clarify the issue for now.

"It is premature to comment, in my view, on the relation between GPLv2-licensed code and GPLv3-licensed code until the final provisions of GPLv3 are known, but this at any rate does not strike me as an issue," he told CNET News.com.

It's not the first time Moglen has stood his ground in the face of pressure from corporate interests who want a say in GPL 3. Moglen also has downplayed concerns from Hewlett-Packard that the current draft of GPL 3 has unacceptable patent provisions.

The connection between GPL 2 and GPL 3 software has been under discussion at the Chicago meetings, Cohen said. Among the 47 members of Committee B attending the meeting are representatives from HP, IBM, Apple Computer, Novell, Trolltech, Red Hat and Hitachi, he added--a reflection of the importance the licenses has attained in the computing industry.

OSDL, a consortium funded by numerous computing companies, employs Linux founder and leader Linus Torvalds. Torvalds has expressed profound antipathy toward GPL 3 and has sharply criticized the FSF's methods.

The FSF recommends that programmers license their software using explicit terminology that specifies whether their project is governed by GPL 2 or a later version. Torvalds has explicitly chosen to use just GPL 2.

FSF founder Richard Stallman has criticisms for OSDL, too. Last week, he published a critique of an OSDL project to give open-source programming some clout in the patent realm, saying it could be "worse than nothing."