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Where I stand (so far) on GPL3

Date/Time Permalink: 10/01/06 08:54:56 am
Category: General

The Great GPL 3 debate is hitting it's high point lately, and is causing all kinds of heated debate. The GPL 3 is the third proposed version of the GNU General Public License, the software license under which the majority of the software that runs on Linux, BSD, and Solaris is released.

Don't get me wrong, I think that it's good that we have debate - technology runs our world in the 21st century, and our technology freedom is one of the most important issues in our lives because of this. Better to think it through now than to kick ourselves later.

But I'm not in a panic over the GPL 3. In the first place, we have the excellent GPL 2, which may go down in history as the best software license ever made. The Free Software Foundation has even pointed out that if you don't like the GPL 3, you can go on using the GPL 2, and nobody's going to say you can't. For that matter, there's an archive of dozens of Open Source licenses to choose from, including the licenses used by BSD, Qt (makers of KDE), and Firefox (by Mozilla). Then there's various permutations of the GPL itself. We have licenses running out of our ears, and anybody who writes software can write themselves a new one as they wish. So I'm not very concerned about GPL3 - it will be another option, nothing more, nothing less.

There's Linus Torvalds. He's sticking to GPL2, doesn't like GPL3, and that's that. And as usual, the guy who rolled up his sleeves and did the work to bring the dream of "free software for everyone" to reality speaks with pounds of common sense.

A lot of the hand-wringers over DRM say "look what happened to TiVo". Let me say it here: Forget TiVo. TiVo is just a media recording device, another option out of thousands to record and play video feedback. It is not worth wrecking technology freedom for the sake of micro-managing one edge case. If people are that determined to finagle free technology for their own benefit, they'll just keep on doing it anyway. That's one of the problems with freedom: you'll always have people abusing it. And I say, better a hundred crooks than a cop on every corner. Or, as Linus put it, "I think stopping Tivo is a much bigger problem than Tivo itself ever was."

The GPL license as it now stands has recently passed the legal test. Another case was where regulation was needed to force Linux distributions into compliance - I don't want to name names here (I hate to sling unnecessary mud), but those interested can think back to a couple of cases. My point is, that the GPL 2 and it's descendants have so far been used to provide the greatest amount of freedom to everybody with the minimum amount of control.

But as I said, even if the GPL 3 goes through full force, it's still just one more of many licenses to choose from. This is as far as I can see in the debate right now, and I predict that that's the attitude that the general public will take in the future.

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