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GPLv3 Draft Comment Phase Begins

Will Novell Get 'Grandfathered In' To GPL3?

  • April 2, 2007
  • By Jacqueline Emigh

Now that the third draft of GNU Public License (GPL) version 3 is out the door, the Free Software Foundation (FSF) will be "actively" seeking out comments from the open source community--and officials expect to get particularly strong response around provisions involving the Novell/Microsoft deal and so-called "Tivo-ization" in embedded devices.

Meanwhile, a Novell spokesperson said that, although Novell is happy about a new "grandfather" clause in the draft, the company will talk with Microsoft about changing their agreement if the final document ends up leading in that direction.

Way back in 2005, the FSF saw v3 as a vehicle for fighting against "people taking open source software and turning it proprietary," said Peter Brown, the FSF's executive director, in an interview with LinuxPlanet. "Our overall goal is to combat that, and we thought at the time that Tivo-ization was the only way for companies to do it," he told LinuxPlanet.

But then, the multi-faceted "interoperability" agreement between Novell and Microsoft, announced last fall, "highlighted a new way that people could effectively make �free software' proprietary," according to Brown.

One of the proposed changes in v3, a "grandfather" clause added to section 11, appears to some observers to allow the Novell/Microsoft deal, while effectively prohibiting similar licensing agreements made after March 28 of this year.

But at this early stage of the game, the impact of this provision remains unclear, as do its chances of being incorporated into the final document. The comments period for the third draft will last for 60 days. After that, the organization will release a "last call" draft, to be followed by another 30 days of discussion.

"We're happy [about the draft], because there's nothing in the license right now that would impede us from selling Linux," said Bruce Lowry, a Novell spokesperson.

Lowry told LinuxPlanet that, as Novell sees things right now. the new clause in section 11 "excludes agreements struck before March 28" from GPL 3 provisions around conveyances of covered work.

"But this is just a draft for public comment, and it's still in motion. If there is something in the final agreement which requires us to work with Microsoft around changing our agreement with Microsoft, we'll address that with Microsoft," he told LinuxPlanet.

"We plan to keep shipping Linux, because it's a big part of our business," according to Lowry.

But according to Brett Smith, licensing compliance engineer at the FSF, although the new clause would indeed "grandfather" Novell, the deal would still be affected by a previous paragraph.

Microsoft would be thereby forced to "offer its patent protection to everyone instead of just Novell's customers," he wrote in an online blog called "GPLv3: A Grandfather Clause, But Not for Novell."

The new "Tivo-ization" provisions in the third draft, also expected to draw considerable comment, appear in section 6 (3) of the GPL document.

Smith told LinuxPlanet that comments are anticipated around whether Magnuson-Moss legislation mentioned in this section would stand up in courts outside the US, and possibly about whether these provisions should also be extended to non-consumer embedded devices.

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