OSBC - FSF hopes to release final GPL v3 by Jan. 1

Lawyers drafting the GPL v3 license agree it needs clarification before it should be used.

The Free Software Foundation (FSF) hopes to release the final draft of the GNU General Public License version 3 (GPL v3) by Jan. 1, 2007, a lawyer involved in writing the license said Tuesday.

However, Richard Fontana and other attorneys working on the license admitted at the Open Source Business Conference in San Francisco that the current draft of GPL v3 needs significant clarification before the open-source community will adopt it.

Speaking on a panel of attorneys involved in writing GPL v3, Fontana, an attorney with the Software Freedom Law Center, said that some of the wording in the current draft of GPL v3 is intentionally vague. That is why the license is currently open for public review and not yet ready for use, he said.

"This is a draft," Fontana said. "We have not encouraged anyone to use this license in current form."

The draft of GPL v3, released Jan. 16, is the first revision of the popular open-source license in 15 years. Software that is licensed under the GPL includes MySQL database software and the Samba file and print software.

On Tuesday Fontana even hinted that the reason Linux pioneer Linus Torvalds does not plan to put the Linux kernel under GPL v3 may be that he has misinterpreted the license draft. Torvalds said he probably would not publish the kernel under the new license because of its restrictions on using GPL code in DRM (digital rights management) technology.

"I believe he has misread it, though he has broader concerns that represent a philosophical difference [from the GPL]," Fontana said.

Several weeks ago Torvalds wrote in a posting to his newsgroup that the Linux kernel probably will not adopt GPL v3 because of how it addresses DRM. As currently proposed, GPL v3 would prevent GPL-licensed software from being used in DRM copy-protection software, which the FSF calls "digital restrictions management."

Still, panelists raised concerns that DRM is not the only facet of the proposed GPL v3 that is confusing and could lead open-source groups to stop using the license if they are not resolved.

Lawrence Rosen, a Ukiah, California-based partner with law firm Rosenlaw & Einschlag who previously was general counsel at the Open Source Initiative, was the most vocal critic on the panel of what he sees as lack of clarity in the current draft of GPL v3.

One issue for Rosen is a section of GPL v3 that defines which other open-source licenses will be considered compatible with the GPL in cases where software is made from code that falls under more than one license.

"I have asked for examples to show whether my own licenses are compatible with the GPL, and I'm not sure yet," he said.

Rosen added that this issue can only be resolved if those drafting GPL v3 provide a comprehensive list of which open-source licenses will be compatible with GPL v3.

"We have to read all the other licenses and say, 'This one's compatible, this one's not, and this is the reason why it's not,'" he said.

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