The open-source community and lawyers have greeted the Free Software Foundation's (FSF's) first take on a major update to its GNU GPL (general public license) with more bouquets than brickbats.
While there is concern about some areas of the initial draft of version 3 of the license, notably software patent protection and DRM (digital rights management), the general IT industry response to GPL 3 so far is positive.
Last fully revised in 1991, the GPL gives users the right to freely study, copy, modify, reuse, share, and redistribute software. The FSF estimates that the majority of all free and open-source software (FOSS) is distributed under the GPL, including the Linux operating system, MySQL AB's database and the Samba file and print server project.
"It takes some interesting and, I think, very promising approaches to problems that have been big issues for the free software community for a long time, such as the patent problem and the problem of license incompatibility," Andrew "Tridge" Tridgell, founder of the Samba project, wrote in a e-mail request for comment. Calling the draft "a really good starting point," he added that all parties involved will probably take quite a while to work through the implications of the initial GPL 3, with revisions needed to some of the draft language.
The FSF recently released the initial license draft at the two-day First International Conference for GPLv3 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Based on advance registration, the conference attracted registered 262 attendees, just under a quarter of whom came from abroad, including Europe, Asia and South America, according to Peter Brown, FSF executive director.
"There was a true cross-section of people," Brown said in a phone interview, with attendees including members of the various worldwide FSF groups, along with lawyers and executives from corporations such as Google, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, and Yahoo.
Kaj Arnö, vice president of community relations with MySQL, had a more colorful way to describe the conference attendees. "I think there was a good balance between different hair and beard lengths," he wrote in an e-mail interview. "Overall, I saw a lot of respect for the FSF by the attendees, and by the FSF for the varying nature and backgrounds of the attendees."
The conference was "a very successful kick-off" to the GPL 3 process, according to Eben Moglen, an FSF board member and one of the authors of the GPL 3 draft. "It's exactly what I'd hoped it would be," he said in a phone interview. Moglen also chairs the Software Freedom Law Center and is a professor of law and legal history at Columbia University Law School.
Moglen was impressed by the attention given to his "28 slides of text" in his 90-minute presentation of the GPL 3, which drew an estimated audience of 400-plus individuals. "[As a professor], you listen for the shuffling of feet," he said. "I was quite surprised how little there was of that."
He characterized his audience's response to the draft as mixed. "In one or two places, people were thinking to themselves, 'That's ingenious, it's pushing licensing technology of copyleft forward a bit,'" Moglen said. "Then, there were places where people wiped their brow a bit, it was less harmful than they'd feared. They felt the bullet had been dodged."