Plans to update the General Public Licence (GPL), which underpins the distribution of most open source software, were released by the Free Software Foundation and the Software Freedom Law Center yesterday.
The first discussion draft of the new license – known as GPLv3 – will be released at a public conference, due to be held at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on 16th and 17th January.
The Free Software Foundation (FSF) will then coordinate a structured process of eliciting feedback from the community, with the goal of producing a final licence that best defends freedom and serves community and business. The process will include public discussion, identification of issues, considerations of those issues, and the publication of responses.
Publication of the second discussion draft is expected by summer 2006 and a last call, or final discussion draft, will be produced in the autumn of 2006. The final licence is expected no later than spring 2007.
Free software community projects, Global 2000 companies and individual developers, as well as non-governmental organisations, government agencies, small businesses and individual users will be invited to participate in the revising process of GPLv3.
Individual comments will be reviewed and addressed primarily through committees to be set up at the MIT conference. Additionally, individual comments can be submitted on the GPL website or during one of the many public meetings being held internationally.
"The guiding principle for developing the GPL is to defend the freedom of all users," said Richard Stallman, founder of the FSF, a US non-profit group dedicated to the promotion of free software.
"As we address the issues raised by the community, we will do so in terms of the four basic freedoms software users are entitled to – to study, copy, modify and redistribute the software they use,” he said. “GPLv3 will be designed to protect those freedoms under current technical and social conditions and will address new forms of use and current global requirements for commercial and non-commercial users."
The GPL is a licence commonly used for many free software projects, including the Linux operating system kernel. The GPL licences software free of cost but requires any re-distributor to provide the full source code and a copy of the full licence text.
It was written by Stallman, who also founded the GNU Project – which developed a free UNIX-like operating system called GNU. Stallman's site explains that GNU, pronounced "guh-noo," is a recursive acronym for "GNU's Not Unix."
Variants of the GNU operating system which use the Linux kernel are now widely used. These systems are usually referred to as Linux systems; but Stallman points out that they are more accurately called GNU/Linux systems.
The current version of the GPL is now 15 years old and, while it has become central to the activities and operation of a large number of companies and governments around the world, it needs updating.
The FSF has therefore started a project to bring together organisations, software developers and software users from around the world, over the course of 2006, to update the licence in as consensual a way as possible.
The process will be overseen by the FSF, supported by its legal counsel, the Software Freedom Law Centre. European activities will be coordinated by the FSFE.
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