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Wednesday, November 22, 2006


GPL License Evasion: DRMing up some controversy

After reading some of the commentary out there about GPLv3 you could be forgiven for thinking that the impending release of the new GPL will lead to the destruction of all that is good in the land of programming. With GPLv2 supporters like Linus Torvalds declining to adopt GPLv3 it is hardly surprising that the world (or at least the FLOSS world) is so divided.

So will planes fall from the sky when GPLv3 is released and all software licensed ‘version 2 or later’ finally ticks over into GPLv3 mode? Is GPLv3 part of Richard Stallman's plan to launch a “dictatorship of the programmers”? This housemate thinks not. I was thrust into the world of GPLv3 as part of research for an upcoming symposium (see details below) and it became clear that GPLv3 is the subject of heated debate.

There are a few GPL ‘hot issues’ and DRM is one of the more burning of said issues (if you don’t believe me just look at how red it is on the GPL comments page). What is all the fuss about? The general idea is that DRM is being used to ‘evade’ rights/‘freedoms’ provided under the GPL and this practice is not acceptable. The FSF is sending the message that technical evasion of the GPL is not ok. The message is loud and clear but some have queried if such an endeavour is desirable or even possible. The thing is, not all DRM is necessarily bad (consider the use of DRM for medical equipment or security purposes). Some Kernal developers have questioned if a software license is a sensible place to put all these anti-DRM provisions and suggest that these provisions are included for the service of political ends.

What do I think? I understand that the FSF is concerned about protecting the core freedoms in the GPL however I not sure if protection should be at any cost. It is important to bear in mind that inserting Anti-DRM provisions to protect particular freedoms will always be at the cost of other freedoms. That being said I disagree with people who suggest that GPLv3 “has the potential to inflict massive collateral damage upon our entire ecosystem and jeopardise the very utility and survival of Open Source.”

Final judgment will have to be reserved until draft 3 is released. In the meantime go to the FSF website, read the current draft and make your comments.

Don’t forget to register to attend GPLv3 and Australia, a symposium that looks at GPLv3 issues from a uniquely Australian perspective. We have contributions from Andrew Tridgell and Eben Moglen as well as an excellent panel of expert commentators. More information is available at

(Pictured: "gnu", Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0)

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