GPLv3 Authors Comment on Final Draft

At long last, the final draft of the GNU General Public License Version 3 is out. While companies and attorneys are taking their time in reacting to this latest version, two of the GPLv3’s three primary authors have shared their opinions on the almost-completed work.

In a public letter, “Why Upgrade to GPL Version 3,” Stallman, Richard Stallman, the GPL’s chief author and founder, opens by explaining why open-source developers should upgrade their programs to the new Version 3 GPL. In the past, prominent Linux developers objected to the new license. More recently, a Microsoft-sponsored study claimed that open-source programmers actually don’t want GPLv3-style patent protection.

In response to such concerns, Stallman stated, “Software patents are a vicious and absurd system that puts all software developers in danger of being sued by companies they have never heard of, as well as by all the megacorporations in the field. Large programs typically combine thousands of ideas, so it is no surprise if they implement ideas covered by hundreds of patents. Megacorporations collect thousands of patents, and use those patents to bully smaller developers. Patents already obstruct free software development.”

While the ultimate answer for making “software development safe is to abolish software patents,” that’s beyond what the GPLv3 can do, according to Stallman. Instead, he said, “the explicit patent license of GPLv3 makes sure companies that use the GPL to give users the four freedoms cannot turn around and use their patents to tell some users, ‘That doesn’t include you.’ It also stops them from colluding with other patent holders to do this.”

At the same time, the controversial Novell-Microsoft patent deal has been “grandfathered” into the GPLv3. A new clause will let companies—like Novell—distribute GPLv3 software even if they have made such patent partnerships, so as long as the deal was made before March 28.

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