Wednesday, January 18, 2006

GPL Version 3 released

The first draft of version 3 of the Free Software Foundation's GPL has been released. Lots of talking points but the most important for me relates to the built in attack on digital rights management and anti-circumvention laws like the DMCA and the EU copyright directive, plus the anti software patent note.


Some countries have adopted laws prohibiting software that enables users
to escape from Digital Restrictions Management. DRM is fundamentally
incompatible with the purpose of the GPL, which is to protect users'
freedom; therefore, the GPL ensures that the software it covers will
neither be subject to, nor subject other works to, digital restrictions
from which escape is forbidden.

Finally, every program is threatened constantly by software patents. We
wish to avoid the special danger that redistributors of a free program will
individually obtain patent licenses, in effect making the program
proprietary. To prevent this, the GPL makes it clear that any patent must
be licensed for everyone's free use or not licensed at all...

3. Digital Restrictions Management.

As a free software license, this License intrinsically disfavors
technical attempts to restrict users' freedom to copy, modify, and share
copyrighted works. Each of its provisions shall be interpreted in light of
this specific declaration of the licensor's intent. Regardless of any
other provision of this License, no permission is given to distribute
covered works that illegally invade users' privacy, nor for modes of
distribution that deny users that run covered works the full exercise of
the legal rights granted by this License.

No covered work constitutes part of an effective technological protection
measure: that is to say, distribution of a covered work as part of a system
to generate or access certain data constitutes general permission at least
for development, distribution and use, under this License, of other
software capable of accessing the same data."

This isn't just an academic issue, since nearly all the big entertainment companies use GNU/linux in at least some of their devices and production/editing processes. [And Internet distribution will almost certainly be via open source enabled server farms.] It would be interesting to hear from some lawyers on this but theoretically this might mean that those companies could be challenged in court for embedding copy protection (drm) in CDs, DVDs and Internet distributed files. Not only would that be a fun case to watch but it would potentially offer an open legal battle on key intellectual property public policy issues. Given the widespread deployment of anti-circumvention laws now, there's no guarantee of the outcome either way; and even if the FSF did win, the likely reaction would be further heavy lobbying for changes in the law to effectively outlaw free and open source software.

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