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[ossig] ZDNet: Torvalds rules out GPL3 for Linux
Torvalds rules out GPL3 for Linux
January 27, 2006, 09:20 GMT
The latest version of the free licence has got too political for Linus
Torvalds, who says simply: 'Conversion isn't going to happen.'
Linus Torvalds said on Wednesday he won't convert Linux to version three of
the GPL, as he objects to the proposed digital rights management provisions
in the update.
The position is a significant — though not entirely unexpected — rejection
of the update, the first to the seminal licence in 15 years. Linux, the
kernel at the heart of an operating system that clones much of generally
proprietary Unix, is considered the best-known and most successful example
of open source software.
"Conversion isn't going to happen," Torvalds said in a posting to the Linux
kernel mailing list. "I don't think the GPL v3 conversion is going to
happen for the kernel, since I personally don't want to convert any of my
Torvalds specifically objected to one new provision in the GPL 3 draft that
opposes digital rights management, which is technology that uses encryption
to control the use of content and running of software. "I think it's insane
to require people to make their private signing keys available, for
example. I wouldn't do it," he said.
The GPL is a legal document and manifesto of the free software and open
source movements. It outlines several freedoms for collaborative software
development, stipulating that a program's underlying source code may be
seen, copied, modified and distributed.
The Linux-GPL issue highlights a long-running philosophical split in the
collaborative programming movements. Torvalds represents a pragmatic
approach that accommodates computer industry prevailing practices. For
example, Torvalds worked for years on proprietary software at chip designer
Transmeta, and he permits proprietary video card drivers to be loaded as
modules into the Linux kernel.
On the other side of the divide is Richard Stallman, founder and president
of the Free Software Foundation. His goals are explicitly ethical and
social, and his principles are unbending. "The foundation believes that
free software — that is, software that can be freely studied, copied,
modified, reused, redistributed and shared by its users — is the only
ethically satisfactory form of software development, as free and open
scientific research is the only ethically satisfactory context for the
conduct of mathematics, physics or biology," Stallman and FSF attorney Eben
Moglen wrote in a GPL 3 background article.
GPL 3 draft released
The Free Software Foundation released the first public draft of GPL 3
earlier in January. The move began what's expected to be about a year's
worth of discussion and revision.
The GPL 3 draft contains new words opposing digital rights management,
which Stallman and Moglen regard as technology that restricts freedoms
users must have.
"As a free software licence, this licence intrinsically disfavours
technical attempts to restrict users' freedom to copy, modify and share
copyrighted works," the draft licence states. "No permission is given...
for modes of distribution that deny users that run covered works the full
exercise of the legal rights granted by this licence."
In other words, some form of locking of GPL code to prevent changes from an
authorised version is forbidden.
Torvalds' position is not a surprise. In a 2003 posting to the kernel
mailing list, the Linux founder explicitly opened the door to DRM.
"I also don't necessarily like DRM myself," Torvalds wrote. "But... I'm an
'Oppenheimer,' and I refuse to play politics with Linux, and I think you
can use Linux for whatever you want to — which very much includes things I
don't necessarily personally approve of."
Torvalds founded the Linux project in 1991, the same year GPL version two
was released, and is still its leader. His kernel project dovetailed with
work Stallman had already began to create a free clone of Unix, called GNU.
Because of that combination, the Free Software Foundation prefers the
entire operating system be called GNU/Linux — though it has other important
components, such as the Xorg graphics system, that come from other groups.
In a 2004 interview, Torvalds indicated he wants the GPL to serve nothing
beyond the single function of keeping source code open.
"I really want a licence to do just two things: Make the code available to
others, and make sure that improvements stay that way. That's really it.
Nothing more, nothing less. Everything else is fluff."
Because of that cautious stance, Torvalds specifically didn't follow with
Linux the Free Software Foundation's recommendation to describe a software
project as governed by version two or "any later version".
The issue of moving to GPL 3 is grounded in copyrights. Many open source
projects, such as MySQL or OpenSolaris, require that programmers turn over
copyrights to a central organisation. That organisation then grants the
programmers a licence of their own to the software source code in question.
But with Linux, the copyrights are held by a large number of individuals
and companies that contributed the code.
To convert Linux to GPL 3, it is likely that more than just Torvalds'
approval would be required. For example, when the SpamAssassin project
converted to the Apache License so it could become part of the Apache
Software Foundation, project organisers spent months getting explicit
permission for the change from about 100 copyright holders. Even then, not
all contributors could be found, and some software had to be rewritten.
The Free Software Foundation also has lodged objections about Torvalds. In
an interview after the GPL 3 draft was released, Moglen said Torvalds
doesn't use a "pure GPL" and that practices such as permitting proprietary
video drivers could be argued to violate the licence.
Keeping Linux with GPL 2 means the project won't be able to take advantage
of some changes. And some experts believe GPL 3 is better.
"I think it's a definite improvement. It clarifies where there is ambiguity
and deals with issues that have come up over time," said Mark Radcliffe, an
intellectual-property attorney with DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary who
represents the Open Source Initiative and who is overseeing some gathering
of commentary for the GPL 3.
Regarding rights management, Radcliffe said Stallman "views DRM as
potentially evil. He wants to make it very clear that DRM is not permitted,
and you cannot implement DRM systems using GPL  code."
But Radcliffe also believes those fears could be overstated, judging by the
commercial failures of attempts to control software in the past — such as
with hardware "dongles" that must be attached to a computer before a
particular program will run. "The practical risk of it being applied to
software is lower than it being applied to content," he said.
Regards, /\_/\ "All dogs go to heaven."
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