The Free Software Foundation has softened its opposition to digital rights management software with the second draft of version 3 of the GNU General Public License, but Linux creator Linus Torvalds has reiterated his opposition to the new version.
The GNU GPL is used by an estimated 75% of all free and open source software, including Linux, and is in the process of being updated for the first time since 1991 via an open discussion process.
The second draft of the new version was published recently by the FSF and the Software Freedom Law Center, and features changes related to the use of free and open source software within DRM systems, as well as clarifications to the patent policy and the inclusion of encryption keys.
We have redrafted to focus as closely as possible on the only occasion which requires the disclosure of keys, that is when the user’s freedom to modify a GPL program depends on a key, said Eben Moglen, FSF general counsel and SFLC chairman.
There had been some confusion related to the GPL v3’s position on encryption keys, with Torvalds stating in January that he would not be using GPL v3 for Linux as he did not want to hand over his private signing key.
According to Moglen, the requirement is only aimed at the encrypted use of free software within DRM systems, for example, that prevents it being modified because modified versions won’t run at all or cannot do the same job as the original program unless a key is used to sign or install them.
The second draft also appears to soften the FSF’s stance against DRM software per se, clarifying that it disfavors DRM where it is used to prevent the sharing and modification of GPL v3 software code, rather than banning the use of GPL code in DRM systems outright.
The new version… reaffirms that distributing GPLed code in a technical context that prevents the user from reinstalling and using a modified version without additional permission, is just as much a violation of the license as adding a legal term with the same effect, said Moglen.
Torvalds had also rejected the anti-DRM stance in February, stating: we do not, as software developers, have the moral right to enforce our rules on hardware manufacturers. We are not crusaders.
The difference of opinion centers on the use of Linux within embedded devices such as digital video recording systems. In this instance, the Linux software used within the system is published as required by the GPL, and is modifiable by end users. However, the hardware will not run that modified code without an encryption key.
As far as the FSF is concerned, this is a violation of the GPL, whereas Torvalds sees this as a hardware licensing problem that does not impact the ability of a developer to modify the code and run it elsewhere.
In a recent posting to the Groklaw web site late Torvalds reiterated his position and explained why the second draft of the GPL v3 still does not meet his requirements for the Linux operating system.
It all boils down to this: do you want to use a license that is for something good (GPLv2), or one that is against something bad? he wrote, maintaining that designing a license to be against something bad is the wrong place to start.
I think the GPLv2 is a very positive license. It’s about the positive belief that together, you can make something better. In contrast, every single big and fundamental addition to the GPLv3 is about hate and fear, he added.
I realize that a lot of people see this as a fight. But I tell you, those people are missing the point. We’re not fighting. At least the useful people aren’t fighting, he added. No good code ever comes out of people who do things because they are afraid, or because they hate. If you make your choices because you fear somebody, you’ll make the wrong choices.
Draft 2 of the GPL v3 also features changes related to patent policy, with the previous patent license grant provision replaced with a covenant not to assert patent claims, and changes made further narrowing the patent retaliation provision.
The initial draft had removed permission to privately modify and run the GPL software from a user that brought patent infringement claims against other users. According to Moglen, that definition has been narrowed even further.
This retaliation limits the ability to make or service GPLed programs if while trying to maintain these private copies a party is simultaneously bringing patent infringement litigation against someone practicing the same patent claims in a GPLed program based on the same work the plaintiff has modified, he said.
The public consultation process continues at http://gplv3.fsf.org. A third draft is expected in October, with the public discussion scheduled to end in January 2007, with formal adoption of v3 scheduled for no later than March 2007.