GPL v3 takes shape in Sydney

DRM and patent protections added to the more international open source license, cut-down version wanted

The Free Software Foundation's (FSF) General Public Licence (GPL) is undergoing its biggest overhaul in 15 years and local members of the free software community are participating in the development process.

The Cyberspace Law and Policy Centre, in conjunction with Linux Australia, held a GPL3 symposium at the University of NSW this week which attracted some 60 people, include Samba creator Andrew "Tridge" Tridgell, and the FSF's general counsel Eben Moglen via a teleconference.

In opening the seminar, the Cyberspace Law and Policy Centre's executive director, David Vaile, said the purpose of the event was not to reach a consensus but to ventilate issues surrounding GPL3, in particular its suitability for non-US legal systems.

It is estimated between 70 and 80 percent of all free and open source software is licensed under the GPL, including prolific software like Linux, Samba, and more recently Java.

UNSW professor of law Graham Greenleaf said the GPL is an "outstanding attempt" to create an internationalized "one-size-fits-all" open source licence.

"We encourage submissions as to what improvements can be made even at this late stage," Greenleaf said.

In both a pre-recorded video and live telephone call, Eben Moglen communicated the purpose of the GPL and how updating it will preserve the FSF's philosophy of protecting developers, and users, rights.

Moglen said the next draft of GPL3 is due in four weeks with the final version to be published on March 15, 2007.

"GPL3 is an attempt to make a licence that would work identically across the world's legal jurisdictions and we believe we have come close to this," Moglen said, adding that the licence includes measures to provide a "usable patent defence".

"IT and consumer electronics companies have strong patent portfolios and we believe the last draft will show how the community can defend itself against patent infringement processes."

Also on the GPL3 radar are digital rights management, which Moglen said is an "imperative problem" the licence must address, not undoing any business needs of vendors, and addressing compatibility with other free software licences.

Moglen said GPL2 pushed free software from a niche concept into mainstream technology and stressed knowledge is best produced when it is free to share.

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