GPL v.3 – I Care Because Markets Care

by on April 3, 2007 · 32 comments

My TLF post last week on the new draft of the GPL v.3 (or as I referred to it, GPL Vendetta) sparked a number of exchanges. Neil McAllister at InfoWorld said in his article that V should be for Vindication, not vendetta. And in his post Tim Lee responded to Mark Blafkin’s thoughts on the draft GPL v.3. Mark has a recent response of his own where he ruminates on Richard Stallman’s alleged libertarianism.

All this interesting and passionate discourse leads me to wonder why we care so much about the GPL? Of the many tech policy issues, this one strikes a visceral nerve with a vocal cadre of techies. I’m less visceral and more analytically removed (not to imply that others aren’t analytical). I care not because I’m a programmer, but because markets care – the GPL has made major inroads into commercial enterprises! And as a lawyer, I care about how attorneys will be counseling their clients on the GPL 3 (as embodied in the current draft). In this regard, there’s an interesting SearchEnterpriseLinux.com article that features an interview of Jeff Seul, an IP attorney, where he states:

With other open source licenses out there, like the Mozilla public license, and the Apache license, you discover that they are brief and are in plain English. The GPLv3 is 12 pages with a 60-page explanatory document. I don’t know how people are going to cope with a 12-page licensing agreement with 60 pages of ancillary text – that’s 70-plus pages of text and it’s ambiguity run amok. If I ever had a client come to me, and they said they wanted to build a business around the GPLv3, and were asking for a legal opinion on it, this lawyer would not have the confidence in it to give them clear legal advice.

I wholeheartedly support the ability of the FSF to dictate its licensing terms – but ultimately the software market will – as counseled by lawyers – be the final arbiter of the GPL 3.

  • http://www.digitalproductions.co.uk Crosbie Fitch

    ULTIMATELY, copyright and patent law will be abolished.

    Then things will be a little simpler.

    People will then start wondering what morons ever decided to apply such legislation within the digital domain.

  • http://www.digitalproductions.co.uk Crosbie Fitch

    ULTIMATELY, copyright and patent law will be abolished.

    Then things will be a little simpler.

    People will then start wondering what morons ever decided to apply such legislation within the digital domain.

  • http://www.movingtofreedom.org/ Scott Carpenter

    I think many of the people who are so concerned about GPLv3 today would have laughed at v2 when it first came out, if they had heard of it. It’s funny how seriously it is taken now, given how absurd its terms are.

    Maybe it has come such a long way because the market can’t escape its irresistible logic, that we’re better off if information and knowledge are shared freely.

    It could be that a lot of people are annoyed because they don’t understand why it works, or they haven’t been able to co-opt it successfully so far. They’re afraid that GPLv3 might close some loopholes.

    And for those that really think GPLv3 is a loser, then what’s the worry? That enterprise has so much invested now and a lot of money is on the line? That investment and value was built on the original principles of v2 and the goals of the FSF, which are still at work here.

    Crosbie is right — copyrights and patents (software patents, at least) have no place in the digital world, and this will be self-evident some day.

  • http://www.movingtofreedom.org/ Scott Carpenter

    I think many of the people who are so concerned about GPLv3 today would have laughed at v2 when it first came out, if they had heard of it. It’s funny how seriously it is taken now, given how absurd its terms are.

    Maybe it has come such a long way because the market can’t escape its irresistible logic, that we’re better off if information and knowledge are shared freely.

    It could be that a lot of people are annoyed because they don’t understand why it works, or they haven’t been able to co-opt it successfully so far. They’re afraid that GPLv3 might close some loopholes.

    And for those that really think GPLv3 is a loser, then what’s the worry? That enterprise has so much invested now and a lot of money is on the line? That investment and value was built on the original principles of v2 and the goals of the FSF, which are still at work here.

    Crosbie is right — copyrights and patents (software patents, at least) have no place in the digital world, and this will be self-evident some day.

  • Doug Lay

    I predict that, after a couple more revision cycles, the final release version of GPL 3.0 will be released and adopted by all major GPL v2.0 projects, including the Linux kernel. I predict the FSF will compromise by (further) weakening a number of the more controversial clauses, enough so that companies like Google and TiVo will find little or nothing to fear about the license. I also predict that language directly prohibiting agreements like the MS-Novell covenant will remain in the final version, and Novell will find themselves in a world of hurt.

  • Doug Lay

    I predict that, after a couple more revision cycles, the final release version of GPL 3.0 will be released and adopted by all major GPL v2.0 projects, including the Linux kernel. I predict the FSF will compromise by (further) weakening a number of the more controversial clauses, enough so that companies like Google and TiVo will find little or nothing to fear about the license. I also predict that language directly prohibiting agreements like the MS-Novell covenant will remain in the final version, and Novell will find themselves in a world of hurt.

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com/ enigma_foundry

    All this interesting and passionate discourse leads me to wonder why we care so much about the GPL? Of the many tech policy issues, this one strikes a visceral nerve with a vocal cadre of techies. I’m less visceral and more analytically removed (not to imply that others aren’t analytical).

    Analytically removed, really? Braden what about the slight fact that Microsoft is a major funder of your employer?

    “The Association for Competitive Technology (ACT) is a national education and advocacy group for the technology industry. Focusing on the interests of small and mid-size entrepreneurial technology companies, ACT advocates for a ‘Healthy Tech Environment’ that promotes innovation, competition and investment. ACT has been active on issues such as intellectual property, international trade, e-commerce, privacy, tax policy and antitrust.

    “ACT represents nearly 3000 software developers, systems integrators, IT consulting and training firms, and e-businesses from across the country. While ACT members include some household names like eBay, Orbitz and Microsoft, our members are primarily small and mid-size companies.”

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com eee_eff

    All this interesting and passionate discourse leads me to wonder why we care so much about the GPL? Of the many tech policy issues, this one strikes a visceral nerve with a vocal cadre of techies. I’m less visceral and more analytically removed (not to imply that others aren’t analytical).

    Analytically removed, really? Braden what about the slight fact that Microsoft is a major funder of your employer?

    “The Association for Competitive Technology (ACT) is a national education and advocacy group for the technology industry. Focusing on the interests of small and mid-size entrepreneurial technology companies, ACT advocates for a ‘Healthy Tech Environment’ that promotes innovation, competition and investment. ACT has been active on issues such as intellectual property, international trade, e-commerce, privacy, tax policy and antitrust.

    “ACT represents nearly 3000 software developers, systems integrators, IT consulting and training firms, and e-businesses from across the country. While ACT members include some household names like eBay, Orbitz and Microsoft, our members are primarily small and mid-size companies.”

  • http://bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

    enigma_foundry, you’re a scurrilous rat-bastard. You sit there hiding behind your pseudonym taking shots at real people who use real names and have real biographies. Who do you work for and where does their money come from, cowardly pseudonymous wuss?

    Braden Cox’ arguments either make sense or they don’t, and his employer’s sources of funding have shit to do with it.

  • Doug Lay

    Sorry, Richard, but you’re wrong. Looking at funding sources is completely common practice, and fair game. (It cuts both ways, too – there’s been plenty of commentary of late about the money flowing from Google to Lessig’s Stanford Center for Fair Use.) ACT is a lobbying organization, and the money that flows into ACT has a direct impact on the range of opinions that Braden can express on the ACT blog.

  • http://bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

    enigma_foundry, you’re a scurrilous rat-bastard. You sit there hiding behind your pseudonym taking shots at real people who use real names and have real biographies. Who do you work for and where does their money come from, cowardly pseudonymous wuss?

    Braden Cox’ arguments either make sense or they don’t, and his employer’s sources of funding have shit to do with it.

  • Doug Lay

    Sorry, Richard, but you’re wrong. Looking at funding sources is completely common practice, and fair game. (It cuts both ways, too – there’s been plenty of commentary of late about the money flowing from Google to Lessig’s Stanford Center for Fair Use.) ACT is a lobbying organization, and the money that flows into ACT has a direct impact on the range of opinions that Braden can express on the ACT blog.

  • http://www.pff.org Noel Le

    I haven’t followed all of ACT’s work, but find it commendable they disclose their supporters. I disagree with Doug’s point, however, that ACT’s funding somehow affects the range of views the organization can express. That argument assumes that ACT’s supporters align on all issues. If ACT was constrained by its supporters’ views, it would be virtually impossible for the organization to express any views at all.

    Richard, I know Mr. Enigma can be snarky at times, but he does have many good ideas.

  • http://www.pff.org Noel Le

    I haven’t followed all of ACT’s work, but find it commendable they disclose their supporters. I disagree with Doug’s point, however, that ACT’s funding somehow affects the range of views the organization can express. That argument assumes that ACT’s supporters align on all issues. If ACT was constrained by its supporters’ views, it would be virtually impossible for the organization to express any views at all.

    Richard, I know Mr. Enigma can be snarky at times, but he does have many good ideas.

  • http://blog.actonline.org Mark Blafkin

    Since Braden is off doing real work today, I think I’ll step in to this one.

    Yes, ACT is an education and advocacy organization that represents more than 3000 companies world wide. One of those companies is Microsoft.

    It is perfectly reasonable to look at funding sources to help understand what issues we follow and why we may take our positions. HOWEVER, it is ridiculous to dismiss our arguments simply on that fact alone (which is what enigma would seemingly like to do).

    This is supposed to be a forum based on solid facts and reason. Ad hominem attacks have no place here. If you’re going to question our facts or our reasoning, question them. Just saying “Microsoft gives you money, therefore you must be wrong” is the adult equivalent of “Don’t listen to him, he’s got girl cooties!!” If we were just asserting that the “GPLv3 kills Puppies” without backing it up with facts or logic, the role of our supporters would be an important factor. But, I think everyone can agree that isn’t the case.

    Richard also makes a great point…it’s particularly egregious for someone hiding behind a pseudonym to be making ad hominem attacks.

  • Doug Lay

    Engima did not say that Braden’s arguments have no value. He questioned Braden’s claim to be “analytically removed” from the debate. I think that’s completely fair. Braden may not have an emotional stake in the debate, but he sure has a professional stake. Claiming some sort of 3rd-party objectivity just doesn’t wash. My recommendation for ACT folks, which you can take or leave, is to be up-front about representing the interests of commercial software companies, and to explain why these companies and their views are important and have value.

  • http://blog.actonline.org Mark Blafkin

    Since Braden is off doing real work today, I think I’ll step in to this one.

    Yes, ACT is an education and advocacy organization that represents more than 3000 companies world wide. One of those companies is Microsoft.

    It is perfectly reasonable to look at funding sources to help understand what issues we follow and why we may take our positions. HOWEVER, it is ridiculous to dismiss our arguments simply on that fact alone (which is what enigma would seemingly like to do).

    This is supposed to be a forum based on solid facts and reason. Ad hominem attacks have no place here. If you’re going to question our facts or our reasoning, question them. Just saying “Microsoft gives you money, therefore you must be wrong” is the adult equivalent of “Don’t listen to him, he’s got girl cooties!!” If we were just asserting that the “GPLv3 kills Puppies” without backing it up with facts or logic, the role of our supporters would be an important factor. But, I think everyone can agree that isn’t the case.

    Richard also makes a great point…it’s particularly egregious for someone hiding behind a pseudonym to be making ad hominem attacks.

  • http://ipcentral.info Noel Le

    I’ll let ACT speak for itself; but Doug, the fact that the organization discloses its supporters is more significant than you seem to acknowledge.

  • Doug Lay

    Engima did not say that Braden’s arguments have no value. He questioned Braden’s claim to be “analytically removed” from the debate. I think that’s completely fair. Braden may not have an emotional stake in the debate, but he sure has a professional stake. Claiming some sort of 3rd-party objectivity just doesn’t wash. My recommendation for ACT folks, which you can take or leave, is to be up-front about representing the interests of commercial software companies, and to explain why these companies and their views are important and have value.

  • http://blog.actonline.org Mark Blafkin

    Doug, it seems that there was a misunderstanding there. Braden did not intend to imply that he was completely “analytically removed” from the situation, merely that he was not part of the crowds who are in violent disagreement. That is why he said: “I’m less visceral and more analytically removed (not to imply that others aren’t analytical).” For him, it isn’t about ideology, it’s about reason. He comes at this with a legal and business background (others at ACT are from the programmer ranks).

    If you’ve met Braden, you’d realize he’s not visceral about anything. He’s got this whole dispassionate, libertarian-zen thing going on. And, no amount of money in the world would turn him into a Richard Stallman or a Steve Ballmer.

    Perhaps I also misunderstood enigma’s intentions with his post. However, given what Braden wrote and quoted, I’m not sure that our relationship with Microsoft really provides any insight into the value of analysis.

    Finally Doug, thanks for the advice. I believe we already are well down that path, as we do disclose on our website and in our press releases who are supporters are. One addition, however, is that many of our members (both small and large) use both the proprietary and open source licenses for their software. Microsoft and other primarily proprietary software companies, don’t care about the future of the GPL nearly as much as these guys do.

  • http://ipcentral.info Noel Le

    I’ll let ACT speak for itself; but Doug, the fact that the organization discloses its supporters is more significant than you seem to acknowledge.

  • http://blog.actonline.org Mark Blafkin

    Doug, it seems that there was a misunderstanding there. Braden did not intend to imply that he was completely “analytically removed” from the situation, merely that he was not part of the crowds who are in violent disagreement. That is why he said: “I’m less visceral and more analytically removed (not to imply that others aren’t analytical).” For him, it isn’t about ideology, it’s about reason. He comes at this with a legal and business background (others at ACT are from the programmer ranks).

    If you’ve met Braden, you’d realize he’s not visceral about anything. He’s got this whole dispassionate, libertarian-zen thing going on. And, no amount of money in the world would turn him into a Richard Stallman or a Steve Ballmer.

    Perhaps I also misunderstood enigma’s intentions with his post. However, given what Braden wrote and quoted, I’m not sure that our relationship with Microsoft really provides any insight into the value of analysis.

    Finally Doug, thanks for the advice. I believe we already are well down that path, as we do disclose on our website and in our press releases who are supporters are. One addition, however, is that many of our members (both small and large) use both the proprietary and open source licenses for their software. Microsoft and other primarily proprietary software companies, don’t care about the future of the GPL nearly as much as these guys do.

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com/ enigma_foundry

    Engima did not say that Braden’s arguments have no value. He questioned Braden’s claim to be “analytically removed” from the debate.

    that’s exactly right–he claimed to be a neutral third party, when in fact he isn’t. So my attack was not Ad hominem.

    I have dismissed his other calims in other posts.

    As for my hiding behind a psuedonym, you can look at my blog, and I disclose exactly what I do, although I do maintain anonymity.

    I have disclosed in any article a relation that exists that might make me less than neutral.

    I am for full disclosure. If someone claims to be neutral that claim deserves to be investigated.

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com eee_eff

    Engima did not say that Braden’s arguments have no value. He questioned Braden’s claim to be “analytically removed” from the debate.

    that’s exactly right–he claimed to be a neutral third party, when in fact he isn’t. So my attack was not Ad hominem.

    I have dismissed his other calims in other posts.

    As for my hiding behind a psuedonym, you can look at my blog, and I disclose exactly what I do, although I do maintain anonymity.

    I have disclosed in any article a relation that exists that might make me less than neutral.

    I am for full disclosure. If someone claims to be neutral that claim deserves to be investigated.

  • http://bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

    enigma, I don’t see any information on your blog about who pays you. Consequently, you have no business criticizing anyone on the basis of their employment. If you want to play that game, full disclosure is an absolute requirement.

    But it’s irrelevant in any case. Who better to comment on the various flavors of “free software” licenses than a producer of proprietary software? Microsoft is as neutral in the fight over GPL3 as anyone. They’re not going to adopt it, and the loonier it is, the better off they are. If anything, Microsoft should be beating the drum for GPL3 and encouraging everybody to adopt it in the craziest possible form.

    There’s enough of substance to discuss on this issue without dragging in these hopelessly boring ad hominems.

  • http://bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

    enigma, I don’t see any information on your blog about who pays you. Consequently, you have no business criticizing anyone on the basis of their employment. If you want to play that game, full disclosure is an absolute requirement.

    But it’s irrelevant in any case. Who better to comment on the various flavors of “free software” licenses than a producer of proprietary software? Microsoft is as neutral in the fight over GPL3 as anyone. They’re not going to adopt it, and the loonier it is, the better off they are. If anything, Microsoft should be beating the drum for GPL3 and encouraging everybody to adopt it in the craziest possible form.

    There’s enough of substance to discuss on this issue without dragging in these hopelessly boring ad hominems.

  • http://www.techliberation.com Braden

    Well, I never thought I’d stir things up so much with this post. I regret saying that “I’m less visceral and more analytically removed (not to imply that others aren’t analytical)” if only for the miscommunication. I wasn’t trying to hold myself out as this objective third party looking down from above. I was just saying that I’m not a programmer, (I neither own patents related to software, have any code that I’ve written that should be DRM’d, and nor do I contribute to SourceForge). Thus, I’m not emotionally (viscerally) invested. Sorta like when you watch a basketball game, and you’re not an alum of either team so you don’t really care who wins, but it’s fun to watch and still somewhat stimulating nonetheless. I do think that Enigma read too much into this, yet not unreasonably so, and I will try to be more careful with my first person writing. However, I never claimed to be a “neutral third party.” Those were never my words (they were Enigma’s), and certainly not my intentions. I know better to think that anyone, even if one isn’t getting paid, is ever a complete “neutral third party.” In fact, I’ve learned to be especially skeptical of people that do claim to be this way. Now, back to my libertarian zen mastering!

  • bradencox

    Well, I never thought I’d stir things up so much with this post. I regret saying that “I’m less visceral and more analytically removed (not to imply that others aren’t analytical)” if only for the miscommunication. I wasn’t trying to hold myself out as this objective third party looking down from above. I was just saying that I’m not a programmer, (I neither own patents related to software, have any code that I’ve written that should be DRM’d, and nor do I contribute to SourceForge). Thus, I’m not emotionally (viscerally) invested. Sorta like when you watch a basketball game, and you’re not an alum of either team so you don’t really care who wins, but it’s fun to watch and still somewhat stimulating nonetheless. I do think that Enigma read too much into this, yet not unreasonably so, and I will try to be more careful with my first person writing. However, I never claimed to be a “neutral third party.” Those were never my words (they were Enigma’s), and certainly not my intentions. I know better to think that anyone, even if one isn’t getting paid, is ever a complete “neutral third party.” In fact, I’ve learned to be especially skeptical of people that do claim to be this way. Now, back to my libertarian zen mastering!

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com/ enigma_foundry

    enigma, I don’t see any information on your blog about who pays you. Consequently, you have no business criticizing anyone on the basis of their employment. If you want to play that game, full disclosure is an absolute requirement.

    I said that I disclose whenever I have a conflict or an interest that might make me less than neutral.

    Look at this post, for example:

    Not your Father’s Ten Thousand Points of Light

    I, like ,any, maintain my anonymity because:

    1. I want to keep my personal opinions separate from my professional life, and when someone does a web search on me, I want them to see buildings I have done, projects I have worked on, not my political opinions which are a private matter of conscience.

    2. Every once in while some fool flies of the handle and uses expletives and starts to harass me. The above post is just one of the more recent examples.

    But it’s irrelevant in any case. Who better to comment on the various flavors of “free software” licenses than a producer of proprietary software?

    Fine, let’s just disclose that it is someone who has a financial interest in the outcome. If Microsoft wants to do a press release, fine. But if Microsoft wants to pay an organization hat purports to exist for some higher purpose, let’s disclose who pays for that.

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com/ enigma_foundry

    hmmm…links don’t work any more….

    well, here’s the link, you’ll have to copy and paste, I guess..

    http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com/2007/03/07/not-your-fathers-thousand-points-of-light/

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com eee_eff

    enigma, I don’t see any information on your blog about who pays you. Consequently, you have no business criticizing anyone on the basis of their employment. If you want to play that game, full disclosure is an absolute requirement.

    I said that I disclose whenever I have a conflict or an interest that might make me less than neutral.

    Look at this post, for example:

    Not your Father’s Ten Thousand Points of Light

    I, like ,any, maintain my anonymity because:

    1. I want to keep my personal opinions separate from my professional life, and when someone does a web search on me, I want them to see buildings I have done, projects I have worked on, not my political opinions which are a private matter of conscience.

    2. Every once in while some fool flies of the handle and uses expletives and starts to harass me. The above post is just one of the more recent examples.

    But it’s irrelevant in any case. Who better to comment on the various flavors of “free software” licenses than a producer of proprietary software?

    Fine, let’s just disclose that it is someone who has a financial interest in the outcome. If Microsoft wants to do a press release, fine. But if Microsoft wants to pay an organization hat purports to exist for some higher purpose, let’s disclose who pays for that.

  • http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com eee_eff

    hmmm…links don’t work any more….

    well, here’s the link, you’ll have to copy and paste, I guess..

    http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com/2007/03/07/n

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