GPLv3: A grandfather clause, but not for Novell
We released the third discussion draft of GPLv3 this morning, and already we're seeing a lot of interest in the changes we've made. We're definitely looking forward to discussing these issues with you all to help us write the best free software license we can.
Until now, the drafting process has been relatively quiet—we've heard your comments, and addressed them as best we can in the changes we make and rationale documents. As we start to finalize the license, we want to make this process even more public, so I'll be writing pretty regularly about the issues that have come up. Hopefully this will help people better understand our thinking, and generate even better discussion.
One point in particular that's drawing a lot of attention already is the bracketed clause in section 11. We've proposed language that would prohibit distributors from entering discriminatory patent deals like the one between Microsoft and Novell; the text in brackets is still under consideration, and would make that effective only against deals that were made starting today. If the text is removed, the draft would be "retroactive" because it would prohibit companies from distributing GPLv3ed software if they've already entered such a deal. That's as far back as it can go—we don't have a magic trick to retroactively stop those companies from distributing software under GPLv2.
So, if the text in brackets is adopted for the final version of the license, it is true that this would grandfather in Novell. That's not the reason we're considering it, though. After all, that deal would still be affected by the previous paragraph, forcing Microsoft to offer its patent protection to everyone instead of just Novell's customers. At the same time, a number of other companies who distribute free software are worried that our language will affect other kinds of patent agreements they've made that aren't harmful to the community, like patent cross-licenses. If you want to learn more about this, the rationale document has details.
We're still considering the issue, and want to hear more about it. We would also like to know how you feel about this grandfather clause in general; perhaps you can suggest alternatives that would help us better accomplish our goals. Please comment on the draft and let us know. And make sure you subscribe to our RSS feed to hear more about other issues surrounding GPLv3.