RMS Turin speech thoughts


There is a transcript of RMS Turino speech up on Groklaw. So to follow up on my earlier thoughts about GPLv3 I will look at the transcript of RMS's speech in Turin and write down what I think about it here, so I can refer to it later and maybe so that other people can skip reading that huge piece of text on legal stuff, especially as there is nothing really new there.

First RMS goes on to his now tradition rant about "intellectual property" being a meaningless term that lumps together three completely unrelated laws with different rules. I fully agree on that and I have used the very same argumentation in my speeches for last couple years.

RMS summarises GPLv3 like this:

 And the overall effect of GPL version three will be basically the same as version two, protecting the same four freedoms, but doing it somewhat better, dealing with some problems which we've encountered and adapting better to various different laws around the world. 

It is clearly visible trough the drafts of GPLv3 that it really is intended to protect the same freedoms, but better. People that do not want their freedoms protected, should not be using any version of GPL anyway - BSD or MIT licenses should be good enough for them. However, if we do want to protect our freedoms, then we should that as good as possible without restricting them.

RMS explains the new patent clause - it was implicitly assumed that distributor that distributes a program under a free software license implicitly promises not to sue users of that software for using it. With what is going on in the legal world (especially the SCO case) it is only natural that RMS would want to codify such implicit promises. He also raises a good point on a person having an exclusive patent license distributing GPL software that uses patented technologies that this license grants him the rights to use and distribute, but noone else. That goes very much against the spirit of GPL, so it had to be fixed in some way. I am not sure if the proposed fix by this specific revision of the patent clause is the best way, but that loophole must be closed in one way or another. (And no, eliminating software patents is not a satisfactory option - it is not soon enough and it does not depend on our decision alone)

Another controversial issue that RMS is going into more detail with is the DRM clause. The idea is quite simple - anyone who wishes to use GPL code in a DRM protection measure may do so without any problems, but he has to admit that because any user of his GPL-licensed DRM protection measure has the right (according to the GPL) to modify that protection measure, it is not an effective DRM protection measure and thus he can not use laws like the DMCA to disallow people changing his DRM software for any purpose. There is nothing unfair, draconian or even new about it - with a bit of luck the same thing could be proved in court the first time someone would try to enforce DRM on GPL software via DMCA. However simply clarifying that in the license is a much clearer way to achieve that and it will also save some legal costs along the way.

What I do not really support for 100% is the clause against Tivofication, the hardware key clause. Tivo has Linux inside, but the hardware will not allow you to run modified versions of the kernel. GPLv3 tries to close that loophole by demanding that along with the source of the software the distributor is obliged to also distribute all other components that are needed for modification and successful functionality of that software, for example, a key that would allow the hardware to run our version of the software. While I do not like what Tivo does with crippling the hardware they provide, but at the same time it is quite clear that it is quite within their rights to decide how do they want to provide you their service. The only way in my mind to insure that TC does not bite us in the ass is to make our software so good that no business would by some piece of general purpose computing hardware that would disallow them to run our software. Microsoft is tiny compared to all the companies using computers improve their primary business function. We must make it so that our users are our allies and if someone tries to go against us with TC tools, our users would vote against that with their wallets.

More clarifications followed about optional parts of GPL that were intended for extended compatibility with other software licenses. I think that is a very noble goal, but one must be careful not to make some sub-version of GPL being non-free like it happened with GNU FDL. However it is still not quite clear to me how the legal issues work when sharing code between projects with different compatible licenses and between projects with GPLv3 with different extension enabled. Could someone explain that in more detail with some examples?

In Q&A session RMS went quite a bit overboard with some anti-establishment rhetoric that in my opinion had no place at that event. If you want to praise Chavez, please do that in a private conversation at a cocktail party or rather do not do that at all - it is quite damaging to seriousness of your message and acceptability of it to our major allies in fight from freedom - business users.

On a funny note - a remark from RMS that we will have to replace him at some point got a round of applause :)

(Now I should really finish up the presentation for tomorrow :P)

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