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RMS: The GNU GPL Is Here to Stay
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If the author of GPL says "copyright infringement is not necessarily wrong," some people could take code covered by GPL and claim that violating GPL terms is "not necessarily wrong."



I've addressed that point in the statement that inspired your question.

The GPL gets its legal force from copyright law, but that is not a source of moral authority, so none can come from there. Why then is it wrong to violate the GPL? Because that tramples other people's freedom or puts it at risk.

The official version of the GPL is the English version, and it is the only valid version. This means that translations are not legally valid. Is this going to change?

Authorizing a translation of the GPL is very risky, because a mistake could be disastrous worldwide. Most of the world's major languages are known by neither me nor Eben Moglen. We would have to rely on translators who are lawyers but not necessarily free software supporters, and we could not check their work. Thus, mistakes would be rather likely.

We're thinking about the idea of authorizing translations that are valid for one country only. That could reduce the risk to the point where we could consider it.

How do you plan to write a license compatible both with U.S. laws and international laws?

The GNU GPL is based on copyright law. Due to a rather ill-conceived treaty, the Berne Convention, and an extremely nasty treaty officially called TRIPS but which I prefer to call TRIPES--"trade-restricting impediments to production, education, and science"--copyright law is basically the same in most countries around the world. It is not hard to design a copyright-based license that works based on copyright as specified by these treaties. Then it will work nearly everywhere. Individual countries can have peculiarities, and when we find out about them, we will try to take them into account--mainly by avoiding them, so that we continue to have one text for all countries.

Does this means that the GPL 3 will not cover intellectual property licensing and patent issues because it is a "copyright based" license?

People should never use the term intellectual property, because it lumps together various disparate laws and misleadingly suggests they are similar enough to discuss as a coherent whole. Anyone who speaks about "intellectual property" is generally either trying to confuse you or is confused himself. For more explanation, see this page.

Patent law is one of those disparate laws that makes your question resemble the amusing sign that once graced a store in Cambridge: We Serve Food and Greek Subs. (However, "food" is a much more coherent category than "intellectual property." All foods have enough in common that talking about "food" in general sometimes does make sense.)

Moreover, copyright law--although its rules and effects are nothing like those of patent law--is also one of those disparate laws. Thus, the question resembles, "Does this mean you won't serve any food, because you've only got those Greek subs?"

I'll avoid the term intellectual property in my response, to avoid contributing to confusion. But I think GPL 3 will probably give very simple permission for using the contributors' patents, if any--just to make it explicit. That's all it will do in regard to patent law. All the conditions will still be based on copyright law.

It may also contain a clause that retaliates against patent lawsuits, if we can find a way to draw one up that seems effective enough to be worth including. But this clause will be based on copyright law. Such patent-retaliation clauses in other free software licenses are generally based on copyright law; they are conditions for using the copyrighted program.

What do you mean by "just to make it explicit"?

Releasing a program and giving permission for people to copy it implicitly promises not to sue them for doing so, on any basis. So those who distribute a program under any free software license are giving an implicit license, if one is needed. However, we're thinking of adding an explicit statement of this, just to reassure anyone who has doubts.

You said also that GPL 3 "will probably give very simple permission for using the contributors' patents." Does this mean every patent of the contributor, or only those that cover features already in the software?

The implicit license, we believe, only covers techniques used in the code as the distributor distributes it. We're not sure exactly what GPL 3 will say about this, but it won't be greatly different.

I thought about this, and came to the conclusion that as soon as a company releases a piece of code under GPL 3 that uses one of its patents, everyone will be able to use that patent freely, provided that he respect GPL 3 terms.

Not quite. It means that everyone will be able to use the same patented technique that the released code uses, by using that code under the GPL terms.

Do you expect that this could sound "dangerous" to business companies, and that will become an obstacle to transition from GPL 2 to GPL 3?

GPL version 2 implicitly does the same thing, and this has not prevented it from being successful, nor prevented companies as large as IBM from contributing code to programs released under GPL version 2. There is no reason to presume that replacing the implicit permission with an explicit statement of the same thing would change their response.

But the deeper response to that question is to point out its questionable assumption: an exaggerated idea of the role that companies will play in the adoption of GPL version 3. The GNU GPL became the most popular free software license because thousands of individuals used it for their programs. Only a few companies played a role in this, by choosing the GPL for their programs. Companies will play a role in the adoption of GPL 3, but not the principal role.

When discussing software patents, let's not forget that each software patent attacks the freedom of all programmers and all computer users. Each software patent points at a different area of software practice, so the programmers and users who are likely to actually be in the crosshairs varies from patent to patent. But this variation of details doesn't alter the overall nature of a software patent: it's a threat against your freedom. See Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure for more explanation of this.

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