Can GPLv3 Corral Open Source Licenses?

Much of the focus and fight over the next draft of the GNU general public license Version 3 (GPLv3) has centered on digital rights management (DRM) and patent provisions. However, GPLv3, which is slated for final release next year, also tries to address another challenge for the free and open source software (FOSS) community: license proliferation.

As organizations use more combinations of free and open source solutions in so-called “stacks,” the continuity of licensing becomes imperative. Vendors and other FOSS members can choose from an array of licenses, and that list continues to grow despite declarations about the dangers of license proliferation.

“Technology has allowed more and more picking and choosing of components and using open standards like Web services to integrate. But with the variety of licenses, the simplicity can be subverted by licensing and copyright issues,” Interarbor Solutions Principal Analyst Dana Gardner told LinuxInsider.

Final Form a Factor

The impact of GPLv3 on license proliferation will depend on the FOSS license’s final form, which is being shaped largely by the DRM and patent issues, Finnegan-Henderson Partner Larry Robins told LinuxInsider.

If these controversial terms remain in the GPLv3, then license proliferation may actually increase, he predicted. GPLv3 may also contribute to license proliferation by encouraging developers to create separate versions of software that include or exclude GPL provisions.

In Theory and Practice

A revision of GPLv3 that is unifying, which strikes a balance for existing FOSS licensees, would theoretically reduce license proliferation. In reality, though, there are a variety of approaches and agendas at stake, explained Robins.

If a company already uses an existing license, it is difficult to start over with another. This limits GPLv3 proliferation benefits to new projects and uses. “At the end of the day,” he remarked, “it doesn’t look real promising to me right now.”

For Stack’s Sake

Clearly, the call for standard licensing is a real industry need, said Gardner, adding that one goal of GPLv3 is to address proliferation and present a single approach to licensing.

Much of the discussion at last month’s LinuxWorld in the UK centered on the role of GPLv3 in reducing license proliferation. Some parties remain hopeful that this will happen.

“It’s easier to be a monopoly,” Gardner remarked. “It’s harder to be democratic and egalitarian about it. That’s why it’s going to take some time.”

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