June 29, 2007
The Free Software Foundation today announced the finalized version of the long awaited GPL3 open software license. This was pretty long in the making, more than 16 years since the prior release, but the process, led in large part by Eben Moglen, was deliberate with input from a broad range of users, vendors, developers and lawyers. Pretty much anyone who wanted to comment on the GPL was able to. MySQL participated in the process, both through David Axmark's early discussions and feedback as well as Kaj Arno's chairing of a subcommittee. I'm also glad that the FSF took the extra time to address issues (or some might call loopholes) that came up around patent licensing, such as is found in the controversial Novell / Microsoft agreement.
While I'm no expert on open source licensing, I do believe that the GPL (both GPL2 and the new GPL3) are the best licenses for open source developers and for building a business. MySQL adopted the GPL2 a number of years ago when it became the easiest way to get inclusion in Linux distros. It was just too much trouble to explain why our license was better when it was just different from what people were used to. So it helped accelerate our growth by using a more standard license. I also think the GPL's reciprocal nature is good; it helps expand the market for open source by providing a better business model. And I think that's one of the reasons the GPL is the most popular license. I view the GPL as embodying a "quid pro quo" philosophy; if you want to use MySQL under an open source license, your software should be similarly licensed. But if you don't want to use the GPL, then MySQL can provide a standard commercial license.
I understand why some folks prefer the more permissive BSD or Apache style license, since it's more liberal and therefore ensures the widest possible usage. But I think the downside of permissive licenses is that it does nothing to help ensure fair use of the software. So if you don't care who uses your software, how they use it, whether they build closed source products off your work, then a permissive license may be appropriate.
For now, MySQL is going to continue to use GPL2 (the "classic GPL", if you will) but we'll be looking at the GPL3 to see if it would be beneficial to us or our users going forward.
With some of the new provisions in GPL3, such as Apache compatibility, and better patent protection, I am sure many companies with one-off open source licenses, especially those that are not OSI-approved, are likely to take another look at the GPL. The GPL3 license is not as radical a change as many people expected from earlier drafts, but I think that's as it should be. Why mess with a good thing?
Congrats to Eben Moglen, rms, and all the contributors on the release of GPL3!
- FSF: Home, GPL 3 License, FAQ, Why Upgrade? (link may be broken)
- CNet: FSF Releases GPL 3
- ComputerWorld: FSF to Unveil New GPL 3
- Linux-Watch: GPL Version 3 Arrives
- VNU Net: GPL3 to Launch with 15 Projects, GPL Author Calls for Solidarity
- IT Business Edge: GPL 3.0: Does it Even Matter?