Richard Stallman, author of the GNUGeneral Public License, said Tuesday evening that the Free Software Foundation (FSF) is poised to revise the key license which governs the use of free software.
The new version of the GNU software license, which will be nailed down during a two-year modification process, will be called GPLv3.
A first stab at the new license, dubbed a discussion draft, will be released by the FSF at a conference it's holding at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in mid-January. The final GPLv3 license is expected by spring 2007.
At New York's Cooper Union Tuesday for a lecture, Stallman hinted at some of the reasons behind the revision. During a question and answer session, Stallman said that the World Trade Organization and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) are working on world copyright standardization.
Since the current version of GPL was completed about 15 years ago, WIPO has introduced and enforced several significant treaties: the WIPO copyright treaty, the patent law treaty and a performances and phonograms treaty.
Stallman, who displays intense determination in his fight to keep software licensing free, argues that current copyright protections have veered far from their original intent. Though the U.S. Constitution references the use of copyrights, it does so to promote art and science, not to protect it from widespread distribution, Stallman said. Copyright laws have lengthened the amount of time works are protected from use and modification, and restrictions have expanded to the point where several of Shakespeare's plays could not be written today, he said.
He also told about 100 members of the Association for Computing Machinery that developments in the United States, such as the Adoption of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, merit stronger efforts to work for free intellectual property. Outlining the FSF's four freedoms, he said: "We're talking about free, like free speech, not free beer."
He used cooking as an analogy. Recipes are freely distributed among friends and family members, modified, then distributed in their modified versions. Stallman said that recipes and software fall into a category of intellectual property with functional or practical use. He pointed to Wikipedia as an example of how something is created and distributed without limits.
"The world will provide free works," he said. "We don't need to give up our freedom in order to have free works all around."
The current version of GPL was designed for global use and distribution but it is no longer suitable considering the expansion of free software and new modes for distribution, according to a document outlining plans for modification. The potential for unintended consequences has increased because of those changes, according to the Free Software Foundation and the Software Freedom Law Center.
Stallman also talked about the expansion of digital rights management pervasive in other technology uses including: music, movies, and literature.
He said propaganda is behind the effort to limit music file sharing and that should be replaced with a positive message about sharing.
"They're telling you if you share music, you're a pirate," he said. "Sharing is good. Attacking ships, which is what pirates do, is bad."