Review process for GPL Version 3 to begin in January

After several years of work, the first draft of proposed revisions to the open-source software GNU General Public License (GPL) is set to be introduced in January at a conference at MIT.

In an announcement Wednesday, Free Software Foundation (FSF) and the Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC) said the review process for Version 3 of the GPL will continue through 2006 with a final license due out in the spring of 2007.

Peter Brown, executive director of the nonprofit FSF, said the revision process for the GPL has been under way since 1991, when the second version of the license was introduced. "We've really been building Version 3 for these past 15 years," Brown said. "It's really never stopped."

Changes in the GPL -- the most popular open-source software license used by developers -- are unlikely to include massive reworking to its core legal framework, Brown said. Instead, the revisions are expected to address provisions in the existing GPLv2 that are no longer needed. That would include wording changes related to how software is distributed under the GPL now that the Internet is a huge part of the distribution process. In the existing GPL, software distribution is described in physical terms using disks, rather than via download, he said.

"There's just tidying up we need to do," Brown said.

Another issue likely to be addressed with the new GPLv3 is the need for increased compatibility with other open-source software licenses, he said. "The issue for us has always been about freedom," Brown said. "It's not about the business model."

The first discussion draft of the new license will be introduced Jan. 16 at the International Public Conference for GPLv3 at MIT. The FSF will then seek comments from the open-source community to further tweak the GPLv3's language and contents. A second discussion draft is expected by next summer, with a final draft ready by the fall.

Once it's adopted, GPLv3 will be available to developers and software users for future applications, as well as for use with older applications if allowed under their licensing agreements.

Eric S. Raymond, president of the nonprofit Open Source Initiative and a well-known open-source advocate, said he hopes the revised GPL will drop excess wording no longer needed. "Maybe the most important thing they can do is shorten it," he said. "It's pretty verbose."

One example, Raymond said, is the included "how to apply these terms" section, which spells out how the GPL should be viewed. That entire section can be deleted today, he said, because now everyone knows what the GPL is all about.

In a 22-page document outlining the upcoming review process, the FSF and the SFLC detail the steps to be taken during the revisions. "The FSF plans to decide the contents of version 3 of the GPL through the fullest possible discussion with the most diverse possible community of drafters and users," the document said. "A major goal is to identify every issue effecting every user, and to resolve those issues. For these reasons, the process of GPL revision will be a time of self-examination."

Participants are expected to include free software community projects, global 2000 companies, developers, nongovernmental organizations, government agencies, small businesses and individual users.

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