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You are here: Home Blogs Licensing Busting GPLv3 FUD

Busting GPLv3 FUD

by Brett Smith Contributions Published on Oct 18, 2007 05:08 PM

Section 3 of GPLv3 is titled, "Protecting Users' Legal Rights From Anti-Circumvention Law." That's a little verbose for a section title, but it's actually the most succinct name we could come up with that was still accurate. Section 3 performs a very specific job: it ensures that people who are merely exercising the rights that the GPL gives them won't be threatened by laws like the DMCA. So, if you get some GPLed software that implements DRM, you can take that part out, and the license will protect you.

I bring this up because we still hear people claiming that GPLv3 limits how you can use the software. I'm not sure how else we can respond to this charge; it simply isn't true. We've long believed that it should be possible to use software for any purpose; we said the Hacktivismo Enhanced-Source Software License was non-free because it limited this freedom. GPLv3 has no such limits. You can use GPLed software to implement DRM, guide nuclear missiles, or run your own organized crime syndicate—just as you can use it to administer a court, run an animal shelter, or organize your community.

Let's work through one example I saw recently: cell phones. As far as GPLv3 is concerned, a cell phone is treated just the same as any other hardware that includes GPLed software. You'll need to provide recipients with the source code to the software, using one of the methods offered by sections 6(a) and 6(b). If the software on the phone can be updated, you'll also need to provide recipients with Installation Information as well, to prevent tivoization. And of course, the cellular network provider can't deny you access merely because you modified the software—but they can shut you down if your modifications turn out to be malicious and hurt the network. It's all pretty straightforward.

Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised that people are still spreading these misconceptions, however: a lot of the old confusion about GPLv2 is starting to come around again, too. For example, some people have been wondering what the rules are when you link to some GPLv3-covered code. They're the same as they were under GPLv2: the combined work you create needs to be GPLed as well. In fact, most of what you learned about GPLv2 can be applied to GPLv3; changes are the exception, rather than the rule.

Now that GPLv3 has been released and a lot of people are looking at the license with new eyes, this is a great opportunity to clear up a lot of this confusion. If there's something in the license you're not sure about, check our FAQ, and if you don't find your answer there, e-mail us; we'll be happy to help you out. And if you see these sorts of mistakes in the press or community, let us know and we'll respond to it appropriately.

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