GPL v3 appears in draft form

17 Jan 2006

The Free Software Foundation releases the first draft of a new version of the GNU General Public License

The Free Software Foundation yesterday released the first draft of a new version of the GNU General Public License (GPL).

Version 3, when it finally emerges, will mark the first overhaul of the licence under which the GNU/Linux platform is distributed for more than 15 years.

The most notable aspects of this first draft include the high profile it gives to restrictive technologies such as Digital Rights Management, effectively outlawing the use of the licence for such software, or in conditions where the software is subject to such restrictions.

The draft also goes further on how it deals with patents. As before, software licensed under the GPL must offer free and unrestricted use of any patented technology it contains. However, there is now also a clause that ensures that where software is licensed under the GPL and also uses code licensed from patents either owned by the vendor or a third party, the vendor 'must act to shield downstream users against the possible patent infringement claims'.

Additionally there are terms that appear to attempt to prevent the wholesale analysis of GPL software by lawyers looking for patent infringement. It allows 'unlimited permission to privately modify and run the Program, provided you do not bring suit for patent infringement against anyone for making, using or distributing their own works based on the Program'.

For the first time, a software maker wishing to license a program under the GPL can actually add new terms to the licence provided they do not interfere with any of the provisions already set out. The draft suggests this might include withdrawal of patent licences to users closely associated with pressing patent lawsuits, which is referred to in the document as 'patent retaliation'.

Other additional terms suggested might be to stipulate the use of copyright notices and trademarks, including within publicity materials.

The full draft can be seen on the Free Software Foundation website.

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