GPL 3 Set To Go Live

The new license, which was announced by the Free Software Foundation (FSF) Wednesday, will be immediately applied to any code controlled by the FSF, which owns the copyrights to a number of popular open-source software projects, including the GNU operating system components that form an essential part of Linux distributions. Software licenses can't be changed retroactively, and code issued before GPL 3's formal adoption will remain under GPL 2, but any new patches or updates to the FSF's projects will be covered by the new license.

GPL 3's effects won't be felt immediately, but the new license will have broad ripple effects throughout the software industry. The first revision to the GPL in 16 years, GPL 3 has new terms addressing patent rights, DRM (digital rights management), and compatibility with other open-source licenses.

"With the release of GPLv3, we will see new defenses extended to freesoftware," FSF Executive Director Peter T. Brown said Wednesday in a written statement. "These defenses will continue the long history of fighting all efforts to make free software proprietary.

The FSF issued a "last call" draft of the GPL revision in late May. The version to be adopted Friday is expected to hew closely to that draft.

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Because GPL 2 is incompatible, by design, with other licenses, including later versions of the GPL, developers will need to deal with the challenge of sorting through what GPL software components can be legally mixed with software covered under GPL 3. The FSF laid the path years ago for a smooth migration by releasing its own projects under a license allowing them to be used with the current version of the GPL as well as later ones. It encouraged other developers to do likewise, but some key projects -- most notably, the Linux kernel -- remain "GPL 2 only."

Companies potentially affected by the new license -- in particular, Linux distributors -- are largely withholding comment until the license is officially adopted. Red Hat declined to comment until after the license's formal release, and Novell restricted its remarks to those made on its PR blog. Neither has said how they intend to deal with the legal incompatibility of GPL 2 and GPL 3 code.