February 7, 2007

Will GPLv3 mean the demise of collaboration between free and open source software?

Filed under: Blog — krkhan @ 2:16 am

Nowadays, the general perception of media about open source is that of an efficient development model which is rapidly gaining user base. I also believed that open source has a bright future, but after I read’s report on the rumor about Free Software Foundation trying to lock down Novell from selling its Linux based distribution, darker prospects started looming in my mind.

RMS and FSF care more about ideology than technicalities, and that’s what sets free software apart from open-source software. Now consider a situation where RMS tries to include clauses in GPLv3 which do prevent Novell from selling Linux. Things will continue to be fine for quite a while, as the kernel developers aren’t big fans of GPLv3 themselves. However, they will really escalate if FSF decides to release GNU’s toolchain and coreutils under GPLv3. Novell will be forced to fork the v2 versions, and we’ll be left with an open war declaration of open source enthusiasts against free software evangelists.

Of course, I may be just being paranoid about free software, but I just don’t see why people don’t like the new anti-DRM clauses that are being proposed for GPLv3. Here’s what v3 says about DRM:

The Corresponding Source also includes any encryption or authorization keys necessary to install and/or execute modified versions from source code in the recommended or principal context of use, such that they can implement all the same functionality in the same range of circumstances. (For instance, if the work is a DVD player and can play certain DVDs, it must be possible for modified versions to play those DVDs. If the work communicates with an online service, it must be possible for modified versions to communicate with the same online service in the same way such that the service cannot distinguish.) A key need not be included in cases where use of the work normally implies the user already has the key and can read and copy it, as in privacy applications where users generate their own keys. However, the fact that a key is generated based on the object code of the work or is present in hardware that limits its use does not alter the requirement to include it in the Corresponding Source.

The motivation of stopping your code from being used to restrict other people’s freedom was supposed to be the primary incentive for authors using GPL for their code and the clause mentioned above only tries to further restrict the restriction of consumers’ freedom. The anti-anti-DRM clause people point out that if you had a hardware like TiVo which runs only particular versions of Linux (using cryptographically signed keys), this clause will mean a clear violation for the hardware manufacturer. The problem here, again is that these people don’t share the ideology of free software, and consequentially don’t see any freedom-restriction issues with TiVo-like products. If I buy some hardware, the choice of code that would be running on it should be entirely mine — That’s freedom.

It’s a pity to finally see the dreaded clash of ideologies between the leading figures of free and open source software movements. If the conflict isn’t resolved in a healthy manner, both movements will be once again left behind the proprietary software within a few years as their respective successes owe themselves largely to their collaborative natures.

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