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Black Duck Talks Turkey

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Among the many people who have more than a passing interest in the final outcome of GPL version 3 (GPL3) is Doug Levin, CEO and founder of Black Duck Software. If you have never met Mr. Levin, he's one of those people who demonstrates a real passion for what he does. He also, much to the chagrin of his PR staff, doesn't believe in saying anything off the record.

So when his staff drops you a line and says he'd like to talk about GPL3 along with his company's new release, you have a pretty good sense that this is going to be an interesting conversation.

In case you aren't familiar with Black Duck, they are a software services company with the mission of helping customers define and track licensing and IP issues with any code the customer is using. By doing this, development shops can get a handle on any potential licensing conflicts or intellectual property concerns. Naturally, the coming of GPL3 has Black Duck's radar running at full strength.

They're not just spectators, either: there's a Black Duck's VP and General Counsel Kat McCabe as well as former EVP and General Counsel Karen Copenhaver are on Subcommittee C of the GPL revision team.

Being a part of the process gives them stronger insight into which way the final license will actually go, and thus give them slightly more lead time to get the new GPL's capabilities incorporated into their flagship ProtexIP product.

That product just hit the 4.3 release mark a couple of weeks ago, incorporating some new features that Levin made sure got discussed when I spoke with him late last week.

"4.3 is a very exciting release for us, because among other things, we introduced a code labeling feature into it," he explained, "which allows the companies to generate a code label that is very similar to one that you find in grocery stores."

This feature, Levin added, gives customers an encapsulated break-down of exactly what's in the code in terms of licensing and IP. Sort of like an ingredient list, though perhaps without all of the strange chemicals found in today's food. Though one never knows. Anyway, you can actually create a label and stick it on the code's physical media, and just see what's inside just by looking.

"In addition," Levin said, "we've had some UI tweaks; the ability to actually do side-by-side comparisons of the code you're examining and the code that's in our knowledge base and the versions that are associated with that."

One of the reasons for this specific expansion of ProtexIP is the coming of GPL3. Not only will different licenses' relationships need to be tracked, but now there will be a much higher need to track versions of the same license.

"Obviously now there will have code that has GPL 2.0 in it and GPL 3.0 in it and you'll have to do those side-by-side comparisons," Levin stated.

Which eventually led to the question: how did he like the new draft of GPL3?

Officially, Levin emphasized, Black Duck is neutral on which way the GPL3 goes. After all, the company's mission is to track any license, open source or otherwise, so they ultimately have no business stake in how the final draft actually appears.

Still, Levin had some opinions about the way the process was going: "GPL version 3, release 2 is a significant improvement over prior releases."

"It unambiguously describes a whole set of new conditions that many many people in the open source and software development areas will accept," he added.

As with anything, there's room for improvement. "There are a number of outstanding issues and questions that still need to be debated. However, the clarity of the draft and the respect for the process really reflects very well on the FSF as well as the participants in the process," Levin indicated.

So what had improved so much between this draft and the one before it?

"The grant of the license, the first sections, were improved. There were some improvements in a number of the sections which were dealing with the Affero license," Levin replied. "And there were several other areas where the FSF brought greater clarity to the license and the explanation behind the licence.

And what still needs work, in Levin's view?

"There are three areas that still need some further clarification. The DRM definitely saw improvements over the prior draft but there's still some outstanding questions. The patent section has raised the most questions—obviously--because of the Microsoft-Novell issue (paragraph 3 in section 11), as well as the prohibition against further Microsoft-Novell kinds of arrangements in the future in paragraph 4.

"Furthermore, there's some issues on the compatibility side between GPL 2.0 and GPL 3.0. There are still questions on that the FSF needs to answer," he added.

Overall, Levin is pretty satisfied with the way things are proceeding. The first draft of the new license seemed to be a point of concern for him, along with so many other people. This new draft is definitely a step in the right direction from his perspective in the legal trenches.

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