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 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.

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