23 Apr 2007

And Now … Life After GPLv3

Not that it wasn’t wonderful. I enjoyed almost every minute of it, and I’m going to write about the ones that can be told, some day. But for me and for my colleague Richard Fontana, after months of living and breathing GPLv3, the weather’s beginning to change.

The release of Discussion Draft 3 has been greeted as warmly as I dared hope: all the recorded outrage has been emitted by Microsoft or its surrogates, which is at it should be. We had prepared Discussion Draft 3, after all, with the assumption that it was going to be the Last Call Draft, and I thought, and continue to think, that it would serve beautifully as the final GPLv3. I agree with RMS that it was very important to add another cycle of public discussion, and I’m sure the Free Software Foundation will be making some changes based on that discussion, as it has in response to comments all along. But I think the big issues have been correctly addressed, and that the detail work-which as lawyers we have to take more seriously than everyone else–is ready for the pressure of reality.

So it’s time I began to think about life after GPLv3.

Making the license is just the first phase, to be sure: SFLC and its clients will be using the new license before long. Lots of people have speculated in the press about who isn’t going to switch from GPLv2 to GPLv3. However, I’ve seen much less speculation about developers who might choose to drop other licenses in order to put their projects or commercial products under GPLv3. In fact, in my travels around the GPL-revision process this year I’ve met and talked to many such people. Their views were also taken into account in framing GPLv3, and I’ll bet there will be some notice taken late this summer and early autumn, when interesting and high-profile projects or products change licenses to adopt GPLv3, or dual license under it. And a license once applied to software must be respected; our clients’ copyrights are used to protect freedom, and we will need to help all our GPL3-using clients to get the same respect for their intentions that other free software and open source projects receive.

But this long drafting project, which has displaced most of the rest of my professional life (and, it sometimes seems, all of my personal life as well) is winding down at last. Which means it’s time to return to some of what I’ve missed. Writing and teaching, for example. Time to reorganize time. As I return to teaching at Columbia I need to concentrate more of my remaining spare time and effort on the affairs of the Software Freedom Law Center, which is inevitably going to mean less involvement with the affairs of other organizations I care very much about.

In particular, it’s time for me to leave the board of directors of the Free Software Foundation, where I’ve been since 2000. FSF is in great shape under the continued leadership of Richard Stallman and his executive director, Peter Brown. Completing GPLv3 successfully underlines the credibility with which FSF combines the most uncompromising principle with the depth of knowledge and experience needed to build broad coalitions in our community. Leaving is always hard, but there couldn’t be a more appropriate or less disruptive time.

More than anything else, however, this is a moment to focus on the new. SFLC is a wonderful place to work, for me and I hope for all my colleagues. Great things are happening that haven’t had enough attention, because everyone has been watching GPLv3. The really innovative work is being done by the other lawyers here. They are refining organizational structures, innovating strategies for setting up “project conservancies”–a new type of shared container for multiple free software projects –which gives those projects administrative and legal advantages with minimal overhead. They are counseling young projects making astonishing new free software that’s going to be rocking business’s world three or four years from now. We’re taking risk out of projects everybody is using or is going to want to use. Helping my colleagues do that work, supporting their growth as they support their clients, is the right thing for me to do right now.

Hurrah for GPLv3, and hurrah it will soon be done.

permalink | organizations/SFLC | 2007.04.23-11:11.00