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November 30, 2005

Free Software Foundation begins process of rewriting the GPL

The first update to the GNU General Public License for 15 years has begun with the launch of the process and guidelines by which it will be updated by the Free Software Foundation and the free/open source community at large.

By CBR Staff Writer

With an estimated three-quarters of all free and open source software distributed under the GNU GPL, and the adoption of Linux and open source software going strong, the changes from GPLv2 to GPLv3 are likely to be the subject of much wider debate than the last time the GPL was updated in 1991.

The Free Software Foundation has released the process and guidelines by which the GPL will be updated and has announced plans to release the first draft of the new license for comment at a conference ay the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in mid-January 2006.

Following feedback, a second discussion draft is expected by summer 2006, followed by a final discussion draft in the autumn. The final GPLv3 is expected no later than spring 2007, according to the FSF.

The new version is being developed to address new forms of use and current global requirements for commercial and non-commercial use, said FSF founder and original GPL author, Richard Stallman, although all changes will be made with deference to the four basic freedoms that define Free Software: the freedom to study, copy, modify, and redistribute the program.

This is the first time the GPL has been open to a public development process. Stallman created version 1 himself in 1985 and introduced version 2 in 1991 after taking legal advice and collecting developer opinion.

The rapid adoption of Linux and hundred of other software products licensed under the GPL makes the development of GPLv3 a significant event, and one that is now likely to involve some of the biggest vendors in the industry, with Hewlett-Packard, Novell, and Red Hat already having declared their intention to participate.

The FSF’s general counsel, Eben Moglen, maintained that all voices will be heard through the GPLv3 development process. We will evaluate every opinion and will consider all arguments in the light of the GPL’s goals, he said.

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The process will be open to free and open software community project, large and small companies, individual developers, government agencies, non-governmental organizations, and any individual users who want to participate, according to the FSF. A new GPLv3 web site has been launched at https://gplv3.fsf.org through which individual comments can be submitted outside of the public meetings.

The process of creating the new GPL is being supported by Moglen’s Software Freedom Law Center via logistical support and legal advice, as well as Stichting NLnet, a Dutch non-profit foundation that has donated 150,000 euros ($176,900) to support the GPLv3 project.

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