Ironing out GPL compatibility kinks

Ironing out GPL compatibility kinks

The Free Software Foundation, in upgrading the GNU General Public Licence, intends to iron out any incompatibilities with similar licences from organisations such as the Apache Software Foundation.

This goal is to make it easier to use code under Apache and GPL together in the same application, says Brett Smith, licence compliance manager at the Free Software Foundation.

"We've been working on a new version of our licence, the GNU GPL, and one of our goals for that licence from the very beginning was to provide compatibility with other free software licences," Smith says. Version 3 of the GPL is expected to be finalised in June or July, he says.

An inconsistency with the Apache licence involves a potential interpretation of Apache rules that would have rendered it incompatible with GPL version 3. An indemnification clause in the Apache licence stipulates that if a software provider offers a warranty on its software, then the provider would have to indemnify other contributors to the program from being liable for that warranty.

The clause is vague on what kind of indemnification would have to be provided, Smith says.  It could be construed as an additional restriction that is not part of GPL 3. The GPL requires that code offered under the GPL cannot be combined with code that carries additional restrictions, Smith says.

For now, the foundation continues the process of ensuring compatibility and working out changes to the GPL. Negotiations are ongoing with Apache.

"The exact details of how we're going to achieve compatibility [are] still being worked out but we've made a lot of good progress over the last couple of months," Smith says. "We're going to get there, that's for sure.

What is expected is that the foundation will allow code under GPL 3 to be combined with code that has certain indemnification requirements.

GPL 3 is intended to enable everyone who gets a copy of a GPL-affected program to have the same rights to use, share, and change it. "The latest version of the GPL addresses a number of new threats to software freedom," Smith says.

Recently, some persons have found ways to circumvent GPL terms through technical measures and GPL 3 addresses that, Smith says. One improvement ensures that when a program is modified under GPL 3, there is more protection from being sued for patent infringement.

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