Introducing … GPL v3

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As most people who have been following the work of the Free Software Foundation know, tomorrow is the day when GPL v3 will be officially and finally announced. This is 18 months after work began to update the workhorse license of the free and open source (FOSS) community.

Why should you care? If you think about or use FOSS at all, then you should know that most estimates put the number of projects using GPL at about 70% of all FOSS projects. Contrary to what a certain industry executive at a certain company, both of whom shall remain nameless, told me two years ago at a meeting in Europe, people do use the GPL and people do care how it evolves.

So in the last year and one-half we’ve had a fair amount of gnashing of teeth and wringing of hands. We’ve had a lot of calm but protracted discussions from all sorts of stakeholders. We’ve had people who really dislike FOSS, I suspect, try to act like honest questioners of the process and the document. We’ve also had the people at the heart and soul of the FOSS movement raise reasonable issues and differing opinions. From all of this, we have the final GPL v3. It was developed by and for the community, and with admirable leadership and compromise. Thank you Richard, Eben, and the many others who took part.

I think GPL v3 is something that we can now all live with and use to further drive FOSS in parts of all its many uses and business models. Just as we used to work with multiple FOSS licenses, we will now have one more in the mix. We can handle this modest increase in complexity if the continued development of this and other licenses results in greater clarity and less ambiguity. They should evolve to support the changing IT industry as well, and we saw this with GPL v3.

Among the other licenses that will still be in use is GPL v2. The FSF has acknowledged that it will continue to be the license of choice for some people. Once again, we and, I think, many in the industry, have no problem have both versions being out there.

FOSS would die if it were to be rigid, uncompromising, and did not reflect the needs of the community and the end users who are employing the software at an increasing rate. GPL v3 and the process that created it reflect the continued process of rebirth and intellectual progress necessary to sustain growth for FOSS.

Because, (did you see this coming?), “he not busy being born, Is busy dying.”* And free and open source is most certainly not dying.

* Bob Dylan, “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding).”


  1. All of the games console manufacturers (by which I mean Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft) are now encouraging users to develop games for their respective consoles, and to share them with other users.

    Sony sponsored a Linux for Playstation.
    Nintendo have just announced some kind of game development framework.
    Microsoft have the XBox Live service.

    When users develop and share, that’s a GPL-kind of proposition. I’m not sure if the details will be GPL, GPLv2, GPLv3, or something slightly different, but some kind of ‘public licence’ is likely to be settled on. It’s a kind of “I create and share; you reward me by playing my game with me and improving it, not by paying me money” proposition.

    So, like it or not, all the ‘big players’ need some kind of toleration position on the GPL. Their businesses depend on it.

  2. It may be a bit early to ask, but does IBM intend to license any of its software under the GPLv3, Bob?

  3. We very well could, but have no announcements to make in that regard right now.

  4. Simon, I will be very pleased to see your company adopting the new licence. Not only would this pressure other projects (including the Linux kernel) to follow suit, but it would also change people’s perception of Sun Microsystems. A friend of mine has recently started publishing (Open)Solaris reviews because of this.

  5. Chris Ward: You have to read the licensing terms on those kinds of things so carefully. most of the time you grant world wide royalty free rights, and sometimes you must give the copyright to the company as part of the terms.

    The fact that businesses can get people to work for them for free, does not mean that people are not fully aware that they are being used.

  6. If I didn’t like Sony, Microsoft, or Nintendo’s licensing terms for collaboratively-developed games, then I would always be able to put my contributions on somewhere like for others to take. If GPL suited me, that’s what I’d do; if another licence ( , anyone ?) suited better, maybe I might choose that.

    Our employers might not be happy, if we worked for Sony, Microsoft, or Nintendo for free. But I’m sure our employers are happy for us to make public contributions in our time off, if that’s what we want to do.

    It then becomes a (small) integration problem, about how to get ‘My’ contribution and ‘Your’ contribution to work on ‘Fred’s console’ so that all of us can share a game. Without any of us accepting Sony’s, Microsoft’s, or Nintendo’s terms for distribution.

    But in these days of global Internet, that will not hold us up for long.

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