When the General Public License revision process began, observers agreed that the new version of the most popular open source license would have to address license compatibility, digital rights management and patent issues to remain relevant. The various discussion drafts addressed all those issues in differing degrees.
When Linux kernel creator Linux Torvalds announced he wouldn't move his code to the new license, it appeared that license compatibility would be the standout issue -- compatibility between two versions of the GPL, no less. But the patent issues came to the forefront with the now infamous Microsoft-Novell pact last November, and prominent open sourcers have talked of little else since.
Recently, intellectual property attorney and former Open Source Initiative general counsel Lawrence Rosen spoke to IT Business Edge about GPL v3: what he likes, what he doesn't like and what he would do differently.
On the patent issue, Rosen says the Free Software Foundation is certainly entitled to impose whatever rules it likes concerning its software, but he doesn't think the approach used in GPL v3 is the best:
"My concern is that the software world is being inhibited by software patents. Rather than trying to prevent software from being used if it has patents in it, we ought to find ways of living with the patent problem that exists -- including companies like Microsoft that have patents and other companies that have patents. I'm not sure that the way the GPL v3 tries to deal with patents is actually going to solve the problem."
What's more, Rosen says GPL v3's failure to close what has been called the "ASP loophole" is "unfortunate."
"The [proposed] ASP provision plugs that loophole by saying if you provide services of some sort to third parties, that's a distribution and you have to disclose your source code. The GPL chose not to do that, and that, I think, is unfortunate because it's a big loophole. It allows a lot of companies to take open source software, bring it in house, use it, make money off of it, change it, and then not bother giving any of those changes back to the people who wrote the software in the first place."
So how would Rosen address these issues? He believes he already has -- in a license he wrote, the Open Software License, or OSL.
"The provisions that the OSL has are basically the same as the provisions that the GPL has, only much clearer, much shorter, and solve things like the ASP [loophole] and patent provisions in more reasonable ways."