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Linux licence revamp in the offing

GPL changes due 2007.

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The basic open-source licence covering software such as the Linux OS will be revamped and ready by 2007, according to an industry official involved with the project.

The planned changes to the GNU General Public License (GPL) include resolving patent conflicts, accommodating Web services, and resolving incompatibilities with other licences. Dealing with wikis in the GPL also has been pondered.

The Free Software Foundation, which has jurisdiction over the GPL, seeks compatibility with the Apache Software licence, said Eben Moglen, president and executive director of the Software Freedom Law Center and who also serves on the foundation's board of directors.

"We will take some steps to increase the compatibility of the GPL with some non-GPL licences whenever possible, without adversely affecting freedom," Moglen said. Lately, companies such as Sun , with its Common Development and Distribution License (CDDL), have developed their own brands of open-source licences.

Moglen did not mince words when speaking on what the foundation thinks about patents. "Its position is that the application of patent law to software is dangerous and unproductive," he said. "All we're saying is the disastrous, 15-year American experiment with patenting software ought to be terminated."

Patent conflicts have clouded open source development, with developers and others fearing that the open source code they distribute may unknowingly be subject to someone else's patent and attendant royalties. "Everybody understands the patent problem is deeply serious," Moglen said.

Version 3.0 is not about fixing or repairing the GPL but bringing it up to date after a long life for GPL 2, he added. "We have been using GPL 2 for quite a while and 15 years is probably long enough. It's about time for a change."

However, he also stressed, "we will do nothing [to change the GPL] that we have not studied exhaustively." Foundation president Richard Stallman will ultimately make judgments on what happens.

A draft of GPL 3.0 is expected late 2005 or early 2006, followed by a full calendar year of discussions, revisions, and other input, Moglen said. Some 150,000 individuals around the world are expected to comment, with Version 3.0 expected to be the largest, non-governmental act of legislation in the history of the world.

A global conference on translation of the GPL is likely to be held in Europe, with possibly a follow-up event to occur in Asia. The upgrade of the GPL will be international and involve advisory committees.


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