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PR: GPLv3: Recent Misleading Information

Sep 26, 2006, 12:45 (20 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by John Sullivan)

The Free Software Foundation wishes to clarify a few factual points about the Second Discussion Draft of GNU GPL version 3, on which recent discussion has presented inaccurate information.

  1. The FSF has no power to force anyone to switch from GPLv2 to GPLv3 on their own code. We intentionally wrote GPLv2 (and GPLv1) so we would not have this power. Software developers will continue to have the right to use GPLv2 for their code after GPLv3 is published, and we will respect their decisions.
  2. In order to honor freedom 0, your freedom to run the program as you wish, a free software license may not contain "use restrictions" that would restrict what you can do with it.

    Contrary to what some have said, the GPLv3 draft has no use restrictions, and the final version won't either.

    GPLv3 will prohibit certain distribution practices which restrict users' freedom to modify the code. We hope this policy will thwart the ways some companies wish to "use" free software--namely, distributing it to you while controlling what you can do with it. This policy is not a "use restriction": it doesn't restrict how they, or you, can run the program; it doesn't restrict what they, or you, can make the program do. Rather it ensures you, as a user, are as free as they are.

  3. Where GPLv2 relies on an implicit patent license, which depends on US law, GPLv3 contains an explicit patent license that does the same job internationally.

    Contrary to what some have said, GPLv3 will not cause a company to "lose its entire [software] patent portfolio". It simply says that if someone has a patent covering XYZ, and distributes a GPL-covered program to do XYZ, he can't sue the program's subsequent users, redistributors and improvers for doing XYZ with their own versions of that program. This has no effect on other patents which that program does not implement.

    Software patents attack the freedom of all software developers and users; their only legitimate use is to deter aggression using software patents. Therefore, if we could abolish every entity's entire portfolio of software patents tomorrow, we would jump at the chance. But it isn't possible for a software license such as the GNU GPL to achieve such a result.

    We do, however, hope that GPL v3 can solve a part of the patent problem. The FSF is now negotiating with organizations holding substantial patent inventories, trying to mediate between their conflicting "extreme" positions. We hope to work out the precise details of the explicit patent license so as to free software developers from patent aggression under a substantial fraction of software patents. To fully protect software developers and users from software patents will, however, require changes in patent law.

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