GPL 3 on The Good Side?

Thumbs up for the new standard bearer of the open source world.

Barely a week old, GPL 3 is a draft intended to solicit discussion and comment.

While IBM and Novell think that it's still a bit early to tell, others, such as the leader of the community-based Debian GNU/Linux distribution, are a bit more vocal in their satisfaction with the direction the draft is taking.

Unlike commercial Linux distributions, such as Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Novell's SUSE Linux, Debian's core distribution adheres to a strict interpretation of Free Software as defined in the Debian Free Software Guidelines (DFSG).

Brendan Robinson, the current leader of Debian told in an e-mail interview that he likes the new GPL draft. Though, he did admit that the amount of secrecy around the initial draft process had him very nervous.

"I'm glad to say that my fears are assuaged," Robinson said. "I was impressed with both the large and small changes. Many of the changes the FSF has made were simply clarifications, but I can remember many of those same points of ambiguity being raised in discussions on the Debian-legal mailing list.

"Whether Debian was the first to note any of them, I'm not sure," he added, "but this first draft reassures me that the FSF has been listening and paying attention to the community. "

Among the improvements that Robinson highlighted is the expanded license compatibility language that makes it easier to have non-GPL-licensed materials alongside with GPL-licensed materials.

"If adopted in the final version, it will smooth the process of integrating materials under common free but non-copyleft licenses that have requirements on retention of attribution that differ from the GPL in detail but not in spirit," Robinson explained.

The new GPL also takes a stand against spyware, though the draft doesn't explicitly use the term "spyware."

Paragraph 3 of the "Digital Restrictions Management" states, "Regardless of any other provision of this License, no permission is given to distribute covered works that illegally invade users' privacy."

Robinson noted that, in general, he's not a big fan of license provisions that put users in violation if they break laws that have nothing to do with copyright, because such provisions can be used to evil ends.

"In Debian we have a concept called the 'Dissident Test,' which is an expression of the idea that a free software license cannot be used as a weapon against someone who, for example, is using the software to utter political speech that is banned in the country where they live," Robinson explained.

The new GPL draft also includes terms that mandate retention of a program's existing function to emit its own source code. According to Robinson those terms, something that he referred to as the "quine clause," can collide with provisions of the Debian Free Software Guidelines.

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