The Free Software Foundation has admitted defeat in its attempts to ensure that the forthcoming GNU GPLv3 is compatible with the Apache and Eclipse licenses, meaning that code from some of the leading free and open source projects can still not be merged.
We regret that we will not achieve compatibility of the Apache License, Version 2.0, with GPLv3, despite what we had previously promised, said the FSF in an explanatory document accompanying its latest draft of the GPL.
The FSF had hoped to ensure compatibility between two of the most used free and open source licenses, but while it has overcome a previously problematic patent termination clause in the Apache license, it overlooked a clause requiring downstream redistributors to indemnify upstream licensors.
We apologize to the Apache community for having previously overlooked the significance of this issue. We look forward to further discussions with the Apache Foundation in the hope of achieving compatibility in the future, said the FSF.
While the patent termination clause has similarly been overcome with the Eclipse license, it presents a much larger stumbling block, that of incompatibility with the FSF’s copyleft approach to ensuring users’ freedom to run, access, modify, and distribute the code.
We could not change that result without abandoning the strong copyleft altogether. We encourage the Eclipse Foundation to revise the EPL to permit re-licensing under the GPL, the FSF stated.
The failure to reach compatibility between the GPL and Apache and Eclipse licenses does not mean that software licensed under each license cannot be deployed together, but does impact the potential to merge code using each license.
There was better news for open source proponents from Linus Torvalds, creator and maintainer of the Linux operating system kernel, who has been an outspoken opponent of the GPLv3 and vowed not to adopt it for the Linux kernel. That would have caused a license management headache for users and developers alike given that the GNU tools that complete a workable Linux distribution are expected to move to version three, but it appears that the new draft has improved Torvalds’ view of GPLv3.
Whether it’s actually a better license than the GPLv2, I’m still a bit skeptical, but at least it’s now ‘I’m skeptical’ rather than ‘Hell no!’ he told News.com, adding that it was now a possibility that the Linux kernel would move to GPLv3. Torvalds had previously voiced his opposition to the GPLv3’s strong anti-digital rights management provisions, arguing that it wasn’t a software developer’s role to define how hardware vendors used that software.
He was writing in response to attempts by the FSF to prevent the use of DRM software with GPL software, an issue that has risen in prominence as hardware appliance vendors have prevented modified code from being run on their machines.
The anti-DRM clauses in GPLv3 were designed to prevent GPL-licensed code from being used in systems that prevent the code from running if it has been modified, which runs contrary to the Free Software Foundation’s beliefs.
The wording of that section of the GPLv3 has been toned down in draft three to ensure that the hardware will not be prevented from functioning due to the use of modified code, while clarifying that the GPL GPLv3 implies no obligation to continue to provide support service, warranty, or updates for the hardware or software in question.
In explaining the change, the FSF noted that it had received feedback from free and open source software users that sometimes it was safer to be running appliances that were locked down. In our discussions with companies and governments that use specialized or enterprise-level computer facilities, we found that sometimes these organizations actually want their systems not to be under their own control, it said.
For that reason, the provisions related to technical restrictions in draft three have also been restricted to User Products which it defined as consumer products, or those sold for use in the home.