The FSF defines "copyleft" as a general method for making a program or other work free, requiring all modified and extended versions of that program to also be free.
One provision in the GPL 3 draft that is already generating plenty of feedback concerns patent licensing. With many large software vendors owning patents and engaging in the cross licensing of patents with their peers, the draft requires such organizations to "shield downstream users" of their applications against any possible patent infringement claims. Currently, there's the potential for larger companies to "export patent risk" to their users, Moglen said, a risk that the companies, as patent holders, don't share.
Moglen foresees many ways of shielding downstream users, including companies disclaiming their own licenses or creating patent pools like the Open Invention Network formed in November by IBM, Red Hat, and others. Like many of the conditions in the draft GPL 3, the shielding issue should be read as "an invitation to a discussion," Moglen said, implying the language of the license may well change.
Arnö welcomed the move. "The GPL 3 attempts at minimizing the problems from the Sick Man of Software, i.e. the patent system, without fighting the SWPATs [software patents] in a windmill fashion," he wrote. "For the sake of the downstream users (that's you and me), I hope there is enough legal clarity." This is one area that the FSF's Discussion Committee B, which Arnö co-chairs, will focus on over the coming months, he added. The committee includes representatives from HP, IBM, and Intel along with midsize companies such as MySQL, Red Hat, and Trolltech.
While the FSF has long held that software patents presented a major problem, a newer area of controversy the organization is taking up in the GPL 3 draft is DRM. "There's no end to the harm" DRM can cause, according to Moglen, with consumer electronics and IT companies likely to find themselves in the middle of the ongoing furious debate between content producers and end-users, he said.
"Not all players will like the FSF position," Arnö wrote. "But, hey, FSF is the 'benevolent dictator' whose wisdom developers and users of GPL software have to rely on!"
One area that surprised some people was the FSF's move to make the GPL 3 draft compatible with the Apache Software License and Eclipse Public License. Previously, the organization had stressed the incompatibility between GPL and the two open-source software licenses. Having the compatibility in place going forward may result in more people using the GPL in combined works as well as making them feel more comfortable about adopting the FSF license, according to Brown.
"At MySQL, we've gone through a lot of trouble to create what we call the "FOSS Exception", which actually is an extension (or, "permission" in GPL 3 parlance) of the license," Arnö wrote. "That took a lot of effort and lawyer fees."