[CS-FSLUG] Weighing In On The GPLv3 Debate

Don Parris parrisdc at gmail.com
Fri Nov 3 18:45:29 CST 2006

On 11/3/06, John Mark Clayton <clayton256 at gmail.com> wrote:
> I've read a few articles on this issue.  I don't understand what the
> argument
> is about.  What is proposed to be in v3 that is causing the up roar?  What
> does
> anti-drm and anti-tivo really mean?  How will I. a consumer, be short
> changed?
> How as a OSS developer (desktop app and/or embedded app) will I be hurt?
> Mark

I spent two articles busting everyone's chops on the issue of personal
attacks, with the possible exception of Stallman, who never attacked anyone
as "strange, weird", or for "trying to tell him what to do with the license
he wrote".  At any rate, many of the comments are about Stallman, not about
the technical merits of the license.  That's just one reason why many people
find the whole debate confusing.  It's why I wrote my articles.  I want
people to focus on the merits of the license - not whether Stallman is
trying to tell you what to do with your code.  That's just a side show.

Well, as you may know, Tivo is a digital video recorder that allows you to
record t.v. shows to watch at a later time.  The problem with Tivo is that,
although they use software released under the GPL, they effectively prevent
you from being able to recompile the software by inserting a digital
signature key that must be verified with their service to run.  They seem to
have done this in order to fend off Big Media.  Still, it violates (even
according to Torvalds) the viewpoint that the hardware owner has the right
to control their hardware, which is exactly why Stallman set out to develop
Free Software and wrote the GPL to combat non-free software.  In short, Tivo
adheres to the letter of the GPL, making the sources available, etc. They
violate the spirit of the GPL by preventing you from running your
re-compiled binaries.  You can find out the history behind Stallman's
encounter with Xerox at MIT Labs via the GNU or FSF websites.

Now, the GPLv3 contains a provision aimed at blocking that from happening,
as well as a patent retaliation clause.  The anti-DRM clause has provoked
the most debate.  The harm done by Tivo is that the user is effectively
deprived of the ability to control the hardware they own.  The potential
harm done by the anti-DRM clause is that it prevents the use of GPL'ed code
in projects like Tivo, since its aim is to counter Tivo-like projects to
begin with.  There is the potential, too, for some level of incompatibility
between v2 & v3, though I'm not 100% certain about that.  Whether you see
the refusal to allow GPL'ed code in a Tivo-like project probably depends on
your perspective.  Are you a Free Software advocate or just a regular
computer user, coming from the Windows world, with no understanding of Free
Software's four freedoms, or a developer?

There are a few points to consider:
<> Developers who choose the GPL will need to figure out whether to use the
GPLv2 or GPLv3, based on whether they want to allow their code to be used in
projects like Tivo.  Indeed, Tivo can keep right on trucking, using GPLv2
<> Developers can, in fact, choose any number of licenses over the GPLv3,
which means that the GPLv3 may not see the widespread adoption that it has
in the last 15-20 years.  Otoh, with more and more people taking an interest
in software freedom, GPLv3 usage may not drop as badly as some have
<> It could be difficult for some projects to migrate to GPLv3, since some
developers may not agree to the migration, based on the anti-DRM or other
clauses they may not like.

I may very well have presented the wrong argument for holding off on the
anti-DRM clause, since keeping that clause intact is not about being
effective in the grand scheme of things, or even having a popular license,
but about preventing Tivo-ization and other DRM measures.  From my
perspective, the issue is not about whether people like or dislike the
politics - the GPL has always been a political/philosophical instrument.
The issue is whether it can be an effective tool to fight DRM.  I'm not so
sure, but people definitely won't use that code in their DRM-enabled
projects, if it's kept intact, so it might be effective, if only for the
code it covers.

If I've confused you further, let me know.  I'll do my best to help you get
the clarification you need.

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