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6/29/2007
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GPLv.3: 'A Great Improvement'

After an unprecedented drafting process, users can modify the free software on their personal and household devices and extend compatibility with other free software licenses.

Version 3 of the GNU General Public License is out.

The Free Software Foundation released GNU GPL v.3, its latest version of its popular free software license, Friday.

"Since we founded the free software movement, over 23 years ago, the free software community has developed thousands of useful programs that respect the user's freedom," FSF Founder and President Richard Stallman, said in prepared remarks. "The programs are in the GNU/Linux operating system, as well as personal computers, telephones, Internet servers, and more. Most of these programs use the GNU GPL to guarantee every user the freedom to run, study, adapt, improve, and redistribute the program."

The organization said that the latest version of the GNU GPL strengthens protections that allow users to use, study, change, and redistribute programs. It allows users to modify the free software on their personal and household devices. The new license also extends compatibility with other free software licenses.

Jeremy Allison said, on behalf of the Samba team, that the latest version is "a great improvement" and "a necessary update to deal with the new threats to free software that have emerged since version 2 of the GPL."

The FSF said much of the free software community warmly embraced the release after an "unprecedented drafting process," which included four published drafts in 18 months. Those generated discussions, which drew thousands of public comments. The comments helped committees, representing the public and private sectors, and legal experts from the Software Freedom Law Center, write the final text, FSF said during its announcement Friday.

"By hearing from so many different groups in a public drafting process, we have been able to write a license that successfully addresses a broad spectrum of concerns," the FSF Executive Director Peter Brown said in a prepared statement.

He added that the groups found common ground on issues like patents, TiVo, and "Treacherous Computing," FSF's tongue-in-cheek term for Microsoft's Trusted Computing Initiative, which covers PC security standards. The FSF scorned the standard and "Tivoization" during the announcement, labeling them schemes to prevent users from utilizing modified or alternate software.

The group said TiVo blocks modified software, while Trusted Computing standards stop Web sites from working with modified software. The FSF said "both are typically used to impose malicious features" like DRM, a term that FSF also changes from Digital Rights Management to Digital Restrictions Management.

The license begins with a preamble, laying out ideals for free software. The FSF said the new license does not prohibit DRM, but it does not allow users to block software modification.

"Thus, they are free to remove whatever features they dislike," FSF announced Friday.

The FSF said that more than 15 GNU programs would be released under the new license Friday and that the whole GNU Project would follow. The FSF plans educational and outreach programs to promote the new license.

According to FSF, the GNU GPL is the most widely use free software license in the world, with nearly 75% of all free software packages distributed under it. Stallman wrote the first two versions with legal guidance. They were released in 1989 and 1991. The third version -- a result of collaboration between Stallman, the public, industry experts and the Software Freedom Law Center -- aims to address changes in computing and policy around the world.

Stallman's GNU software system, coupled with Linux, is a free operating system under GPL version 2. The GNU components of the system will be released under GPL v.3. If Linux kernel developer Torvalds sticks with the earlier version, as he has previously indicated, the GNU/Linux system will contain GNU packages using the latest version, along with Linux under the old, the FSF said.

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