GPLv2 or GPLv3?: Inside the Debate: Page 4

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Torvalds, Brown says, "is a developer. He wants to develop good code. But don't portray him as the leader of a movement that wants people to have control of their computers. He doesn't believe in that stuff. He's distanced himself from it. People have crowned him the leader of a movement when he's not. He's the leader of a software project."

Paraphrasing a remark by Stallman, Brown adds that appreciating the GPL because it encourages the sharing of code while not restricting what you do with the result is like using the DVD drive on your computer as a cup holder: You can use it that way, but that's not what it's intended for.

This attitude seems to enrage Torvalds, who writes on the kernel developer's list that "The FSF thinks that they own the definition of 'freedom' and that "I'm damn[ed] fed up with the FSF being the 'protector of freedoms,' and also feeling that they can define what those freedoms mean."

In some ways, this debate seems as much about longstanding disputes and personality differences as about the changes to the license. In addition, underlying the dispute may be the difference between those who believe that freedoms must be restricted in order to protect freedom for the greatest number (The FSF's position) and those who believe that to place any restriction on freedom destroys freedom (Torvalds' position). Yet, whatever the reasons behind it, enough rancor exists that a resolution is probably impossible.

What happens next?

When GPLv3 is released, it is likely to co-exist with GPLv2 for some time. Aside from objections like Torvalds', with many projects, including the kernel, the task of tracking down all copyright holders in order to obtain their agreement to change licenses, is onerous and probably impossible.

Yet for all the energy devoted to the changes, in many ways the results will have be surprisingly minor. Software released under GPLv3 will run on a GPLv2 kernel, just as software released under other licenses does. GPLv3 software will not be available for use in GPLv2 software, but perhaps the possibility of dual-licensing will emerge as a compromise, as Torvalds and others have speculated on the kernel developers' list.

"What's the worse case scenario?" Brown asks. That the Linux kernel stays at GPLv2 and lots of other projects move to GPLv3. So what? GPLv2 is a perfectly fine license. But it's got some problems. It doesn't cover some areas that developers may come to rue if they don't change the license."

Surprisingly, perhaps, Torvalds agrees. "I don't think that it's a disaster if we end up with a GPLv2 and a new and incompatible GPLv3," Glyn Moody quotes him as saying. "It's not like we haven't had licenses before either, and most of them haven't been compatible."

In the longer term -- say the next five years -- GPLv3 will probably win out through attrition. If nothing else, as the discussion on TiVoization makes clear, the FSF cares strongly about the issues behind the provisions in the new version of the license while those who think like Torvalds, for all the animation with which he expresses himself, care relatively little. In the end, they would rather be coding. As more projects move to GPLv3, open source advocates will probably move with the rest of the community.

So will the consultation process and the angst have been worthwhile in the end? Brown thinks so. Over the last eighteen months, discussion about the GPLv3 has helped to start discussion of many of the issues that the FSF is concerned about, ranging from DRM and TiVoization to internationalization and software patents. "It's been phenomenal in that sense. It's allowed the community to have conversations about these issues, and I think that's all for the good." In this way, even if the FSF's licensing battle proves inconclusive, the skirmishes may have helped its long-term strategies.

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