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Closing open source loopholesJay Lyman, November 21, 2007 @ 2:23 pm ET
Say what you want about GPLv3, but the update to the most popular open source software license continues to close loopholes that have been used to avoid sharing source code, patent protection and other freedoms that the authors intended. Still, we have yet to see whether this closes off any appeal of the GPL and even open source in general for vendors, developers and users.
This week brought the final release of the Affero GPLv3 (AGPLv3). Although the GPLv3 did not manage to cover software-as-a-service, also known as the ‘ASP loophole,’ the matter is addressed through GPLv3′s compatibility with AGPL. In its most recent release, the AGPLv3 goes beyond allowing for source code availability the same way software is delivered, whether via SaaS or other network or Web services model. It now requires source code availability whether the software is delivered via traditional release, download or via network.
The SaaS loophole is not the first to be knotted up by the Free Software Foundation. The GNU group behind the popular open source license managed in GPLv3 to deal with a matter known as ‘Tivoization.’ This is basically the use of GPL code in a hardware device, such as Tivo’s set-top box, where the hardware blocks access to the source code. Tivo and the Linux kernel it uses remain licensed under GPLv2, but the loophole has been closed in the most current version of the license, GPLv3.
While GPLv3 originally set out to tackle the issue of software patents, another loophole emerged with the Microsoft-Novell partnership a year ago, adding some urgency and significance to the issue. To avoid passing its promise not to pursue patent-based legal action onto all Linux users, Microsoft gave its promise directly to SUSE Linux customers. GPLv3 grandfathered the clever deal, but again, the license would prevent a similar arrangement today.
The question now is, what do these changes do to the popularity, uptake and continued success of the GPL? Will the Tivos of the world view GPL code-sharing requirements as too burdensome? Will it push them to more permissive licenses such as BSD? Will it push them all the way to Windows embedded? Does this put big open source users, such as Google, on notice that their open source use comes with obligations of openness and sharing?
The answers will come in time, but as new loopholes are discovered and used, it appears the FSF will be following along and stitching them closed.
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