Richard Stallman on GPL version 3

On November 21st 2006 Richard Stallman addressed the 5th International GPLv3 Conference in Tokyo Japan. A full transcript of his presentation is available online on the Free Software Europe website. To help those who do not have time to read it all I have extracted a few interesting quotes (displayed in italics below) that clarify the issues surrounding GPL version 3.

During the presentation Stallman alluded to the greater social issues Free Software is addressing and the fact that open source is a by-product of the underlying principles and definitely not an objective in itself.

"The basic idea of the GNU GPL is to establish the four freedoms as inalienable rights, that is, rights that nobody can lose, except through wrong doing. You can't sell them."

The wording of his statement indicates that Free Software, like free speech, has more to do with universal social freedoms than technical issues. Stallman was also very clear on why a new version of the GPL is required.

"GPL version two was developed in 1991. The community was very different then. It was much smaller. There were probably hundreds of Free Software packages instead of tens of thousands. And there was no free operating system."

What is often overlooked in mainstream media discussion about GPL version 3 is the things it is trying to do better than the current license. Contrary to the perception of some it is not just filling legal holes that have been discovered over time.

"GPL version 3 is designed to be compatible with two important licenses: the Apache license and the Eclipse license. It will be possible to merge code under those licenses into GPL3 covered software once GPL version 3 is really out."

Also the new license is softening up on those who break its terms, the consequences of which under the current GPL version 2 is very strict.

"Anyone who accidentally violates the license, for instance, puts the wrong source code up, has, under GPL version 2, terminated his licenses for everything."

This overly harsh punishment is being reduced in the new license to something a little more realistic.

"If you stop your violation, then any given copyright holder has 60 days from that point to complain... and if they don't notify you and sixty days go by with no violations, then you're safe."

On the subject of patents Stallman had a number of very good points especially related to the Microsoft/Novell case. The most fascinating was the following that suggested the timing of the agreement was beneficial to the GPL:

"It turns out that perhaps it's a good thing Microsoft did this now, because we discovered that the text we had written for GPL version 3 would not have blocked this, but it's not too late and we're going to make sure that when GPL version 3 really comes out it will block such deals."

So if Stallman is correct then the timing of the Microsoft/Novell agreement may work against Novell in the long term. If the deal was not announced until later in the GPL version 3 process or after its release then their loophole may have existed for an indefinite period of time (or at least until GPL version 4).

On how they plan on tackling the problems raised by the intricacies of the Microsoft/Novell patent protection agreement Stallman had this to say:

"We're going to say not just that if you recieve the patent license, but if you have arranged any sort of patent licensing that is prejudicial amoung the downstream recipients, then that's not allowed."

This move will impede further deals similar to the Microsoft/Novell one which aim to usurp current GPL restrictions though the implication that patent protection agreements are formed between the patent holding company and the end-user (not the patent holding company and the supplier of the software).

Overall the transcription of the presentation is a great read and covered many issues which ranged from the concept of Free Software through to the complex issue of Digital Rights Management. I would recommend those interested in the issue to take a look at what Stallman has to say and not just judge GPL version 3 on the opinion of most mainstream media outlets and certain kernel developers.