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PR: Free Software Foundation Releases Guidelines for Revising the Widely Used GNU GPL

Nov 30, 2005, 13:00 (0 Talkback[s])

The Free Software Foundation (FSF) and the Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC) today released a document specifying the process and guidelines for revising the Foundation's GNU General Public License (GNU GPL). The FSF will release the first discussion draft of the new license for comment at the International Public Conference for GPLv3 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) on January 16 and 17, 2006.

The GNU GPL is the most widely used Free Software license worldwide: Almost three quarters of all Free Software programs (also known as Free and Open Source Software, or FOSS) are distributed under this license. Since the GPL's last revision more than 15 years ago, software development and the business of distributing software have changed dramatically. Research firm Gartner recently predicted that by 2010 more than 75 percent of IT organizations will have formal acquisition and management strategies dealing with Free Software. As a result, business enterprises, as well as individual users and developers, will have an interest in the content of the new license.

"The guiding principle for developing the GPL is to defend the freedom of all users," said Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software Foundation. "As we address the issues raised by the community, we will do so in terms of the four basic freedoms software users are entitled to--to study, copy, modify and redistribute the software they use. GPLv3 will be designed to protect those freedoms under current technical and social conditions and will address new forms of use and current global requirements for commercial and non-commercial users."

After publishing the first discussion draft of the GPL in January, the FSF will begin a structured process of eliciting feedback from the community, with the goal of producing a final license that best defends freedom and serves community and business. The process will include public discussion, identification of issues, considerations of those issues, and publication of responses. Publication of the second discussion draft is expected by summer 2006 and a last call, or final discussion draft, will be produced in the fall of 2006. The final GPLv3 license is expected no later than spring 2007.

The document being made public today, "GPLv3 Process Definition," outlines the principles, the timeline and the process for public comment and issue resolution and can be viewed at http://gplv3.fsf.org. Individuals may also register here for the first International Public Conference to take place in January.

"It is an exciting time in the history of software, particularly in the history of the Free Software movement," said Eben Moglen, general counsel to the Free Software Foundation and founding director of the Software Freedom Law Center, which is providing logistical support and legal advice to the Free Software Foundation. "Through this process, all voices will be heard. We will evaluate every opinion and will consider all arguments in light of the GPL's goals. The process is accessible, transparent and public for all those who want to participate."

Free software community projects, global 2000 companies and individual developers, as well as non-governmental organizations (NGOs), government agencies, small business and individual users will be invited to participate in the revising process of GPLv3. Individual comments will be reviewed and addressed primarily through committees to be set up at the MIT conference. Additionally, individual comments can be submitted on the GPL website at http://gplv3.fsf.org or during one of the many public meetings being held internationally.

"The General Public License is a groundbreaking legal document that has been the cornerstone of the free software movement and has created extraordinary amounts of change in the industry," said Jim Harvey, a partner with Alston & Bird and the leader of its Open Source practice. "It is time, though, to analyze and address the legal and business issues that are raised by the use of free software across the globe and the valuable and critical business transactions that routinely transpire under the GPL."

"As a leading supporter of free and open source software and the community, and a big proponent of the GPL and of license reform, HP is pleased to see that the Free Software Foundation has developed an inclusive and transparent process for updating the GPL--a process that should increase confidence in the GPL and further enhance cooperative development activities," said Christine Martino, vice president of Linux and Open Source, HP. "Participating in the development and distribution of free and open source software is something HP focuses on every day, and we look forward to what the community will accomplish with GPLv3."

"The market has validated the free software model laid out in the GPL as a powerful choice for developing enterprise software," said Joe LaSala, general counsel for Novell. "Novell is a strong supporter of the GPL, and has contributed millions of lines of code under the GPL. We applaud Richard Stallman and the Free Software Foundation for involving the free software community in creating the next version of the GPL. Novell looks forward to actively participating in that process."

"This is an extremely important event that will have a huge impact on the future of free software, and I'm delighted that the FSF has chosen to follow such an open process and consult so widely," said Gary Barnett, IT research director at Ovum. "Because this process is both inclusive and public, the FSF is ensuring that the views of everyone with an interest in the future of the GPL can participate in defining the next generation of the license."

"The enormous contribution of Richard Stallman and the Free Software Foundation to software development, innovation and freedom is beyond question," said Michael Cunningham, Red Hat general counsel. "We welcome the FSF's announcement of efforts to improve the GPL through an open, inclusive and international public process committed to the software freedoms that have made the GPL successful."

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