06.25.07

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The Free Software Foundation Explains Why Novell is off the GPLv3 Hook

Posted in FSF, GNU/Linux, GPL, Microsoft, Novell, Patent Covenant, Patents at 11:43 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

About a month ago, Alan Cox said that “Novell are [were] going to get stung by the GPLv3, and rightfully so”. Around this time it also became evident that Novell would get away. Some say that Novell’s image will continue to suffer, so there is punishment to accept. Others perceive this as a good thing because a few positive things can get extracted from the deal. Consider two of the FSF’s latest statements on this issue:

The final draft of GPLv3 says GPL distributors “who make discriminatory patent deals after March 28 may not convey software under GPLv3,” according to a Free Software Foundation statement. The foundation also said that “Novell is not prohibited from distributing this software because the patent protection can be turned against Microsoft to the community’s benefit.”

There is also this one:

“The main reason for this is tactical,” the foundation explained in releasing the final draft. “We believe we can do more to protect the community by allowing Novell to use software under GPL Version 3 than by forbidding it to do so.” However, the new version “will block Microsoft and other patent aggressors from further such attempts to subvert parts of our community.”

It goes without saying that Microsoft is very angry about this.

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6 Comments

  1. shane coyle said,

    June 26, 2007 at 4:49 am

    Gravatar

    Now, we just need the stars to align right.

    I also asked this at that time, and still haven’t made a determination, but I also wonder if Novell can skirt the issue by simply avoiding GPLv3 licensed software that is affected by their license with Microsoft.

    For instance, Novell confirms that OOO is covered by their right-to-use license for their customers, so they wouldn’t touch that under GPL3, but say K3B (or whatever) for instance isn’t affected by the MS covenant not to sue that Novell is paying royalties for – if Novell includes that under GPLv3 does it have any impact on their MS deal since there is no protection for that to pass on?

    Can Novell and Xandros cherry-pick GPLv3 projects that won’t interfere with their discriminatory patent licenses?

  2. Ciaran O'Riordan said,

    June 26, 2007 at 4:07 pm

    Gravatar

    @shane coyle: Can they cherry pick around GPLv3? Not really.

    Many of the core components of the operating system were written by GNU and are copyrighted by FSF.

    The GNU C Library is one example – a component which Alan Cox said is just as important as the kernel.

    GnuPG is another example.

    Then there’s GCC and GDB, which development ceases in their absense.

    And then there’s things which people either need or don’t want to learn new versions of, such as Gnash, gzip, GIMP, coreutils, Bash, etc.

    And that’s only the GNU packages. Then there are the other packages that will go GPLv3, like Samba. Sun and MySQL are also talking about using GPLv3.

  3. shane coyle said,

    June 27, 2007 at 4:48 am

    Gravatar

    But, Novell et al don’t have a patent license for GCC and the others, so they haven’t any patent license for them to pass on.

    Are you saying that under GPLv3 if I distribute, say, GCC I must give up my patents for downstream use for any and all software products, such as OOO? That sounds ‘viral’ to the extreme.

  4. Matthew Flaschen said,

    June 28, 2007 at 1:32 am

    Gravatar

    It’s not viral. It applies to all GPLv3 software (and OOO is not GPLv3), but not any other programs. Linspire and Xandros (Novell is grandfathered in) will not be able to distribute any GPLv3 software because they signed exclusive patent deals that didn’t apply to all downstream users.

  5. Roy Schestowitz said,

    June 28, 2007 at 4:14 am

    Gravatar

    Thanks for your insights, Matthew. I was never quite sure if Xandros and Linspire fell under the same class as Novell.

  6. shane coyle said,

    June 28, 2007 at 5:06 am

    Gravatar

    So, basically the only package that Novell distributes that they may have a GPL3 issue with is Samba, and since Novell (I believe) has a MS communication protocols license of some sort, they now likely have access to actual SMB(2) documentation to implement their own without reverse engineering.

    Novell would never move Mono to GPL3, nor would they allow OOO to go GPL3, so none of their discriminatory patent licenses will need to be passed on downstream if they avoid Samba under v3. Basically, they are totally untouched by this in practice.

    And, I still think it’s a bit of a stretch that if you give up all your patents for program X under the GPL3 that every unrelated program Y under v3 is now also covered by any and all patents you may have if you never distributed them.

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