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[ossig] ZDNet: Torvalds rules out GPL3 for Linux

Torvalds rules out GPL3 for Linux
Stephen Shankland
CNET News.com
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.

Missing out

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 [3] 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."
dinesh@alphaque.com                (0 0)    http://www.alphaque.com/
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