GPLv3 Proposal Extends Compatibility


The Free Software Foundation's much anticipated GPLv3 extends license compatibility to open-source licenses such as Apache and Eclipse. But it also is designed to prevent commercial firms from imposing unfair patent and digital rights restrictions on free software and removes loopholes that could enable commercial vendors to hijack the GPL for their own purposes.

"The biggest change we've made is in license compatibility, partly removing an obstacle that has prevented combining code of various free software licenses," said Richard Stallman, president of the Boston-based Free Software Foundation and GNU Project and author of GNU GPL.

Version 3 will be the first major revision of the GPL since 1991. GPLv2 is used by open-source projects such as Linux, Samba and MySQL.

"Once finalized later this year or in early 2007, the impact GPLv3 will have on the development of the Linux kernel will depend in part on its final terms and whether kernel developers, including Linus Torvalds, decide to use the new license," said Diane Peters, general counsel for Open Source Development Lab, Beaverton, Ore.

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As proposed, GPLv3 would not require Google or eBay to distribute source code along with binary source code, as rumored, or undermine commercial vendors with large patent portfolios, such as Linux-proponent IBM.

But GPLv3 does contain a patent retaliation clause aimed at prohibiting developers from adding restrictions to their GPL-based products. Developers can continue to use version 2, but "for companies that have relied on business models based on adding value to Linux, this could be a serious setback," said Heather Meeker, attorney with Greenberg Traurig.