12 Apr 2005

Yet Another GPL3 Rumor

I’ll probably need a whole category for these as the process of updating the GPL begins to gather steam. It began with an article in internetnews.com reporting a conversation with Mike Olson of Sleepycat Software. Mike told internetnews.com that the Free Software Foundation was still thinking about the problem posed when someone modifies GPL’d web services software and goes into business providing competing services using the modified software, but without releasing the modifications to the community. Mike was right; that’s an issue FSF expects to address in GPLv3. Richard Stallman and I have both talked about it publicly.

But internetnews.com understood Mike to be saying that GPLv3 might somehow apply in a new way to the modifications made by companies that customize GPL’d software for their own use but never distribute to anybody else. This was confusing enough, and plainly wrong. We wouldn’t do that. But then someone went even further and posted to Slashdot suggesting that a future GPL might require users of free software, such as Amazon or Google, to pay fees simply for using GPL’d code.

Some Slashdot readers thought this last contribution was FUD or intentional flamebait. I hope it was just a silly but innocent error. Either way, the rumor was nonsense by itself, and I wouldn’t normally write in response to a nonsensical rumor. But the occasion gives me a chance to say something about reading GPLv3 news in general.

All future versions of the GPL will fully protect the freedoms that the Free Software Foundation defined decades ago, and which we believe all software users everywhere should be guaranteed. Freedom zero, the freedom to use software, is infringed if you are required to pay fees or make promises in order to use software, anywhere, anytime. FSF will never publish a license that violates freedom zero. Similarly, freedom two, the freedom to modify a program, and freedom three, the freedom to share, are violated if private modification is prohibited or sharing is required rather than permitted. You can always modify free software for your own use, and decide whether to share it with other people. If you share with others, the GPL says now and always will say that you have to give them the same freedoms you were given by others who contributed to the code you are using, modifying and redistributing.

FSF has promised the free software community generally, and the contributors to FSF-sponsored software projects in particular, that future versions of the GPL will conserve the spirit of the original license and protect the freedoms for which FSF stands. If you read a report claiming that FSF is considering license terms incompatible with the fundamental freedoms laid out in the preamble to the current GPL, you know it isn’t so.

permalink | licenses/gpl/gpl3 | 2005.04.12-14:51.00