by CIO Staff

GPL 3: Time to Get Involved

Feb 07, 20065 mins
Open Source

Guest blogger Bernard Golden of Navica continues his coverage of the GPL3 revision process.

In my last posting, I outlined some of the salient issues regarding the newly released GPL3 draft.

Perhaps you found the prospect of compulsory end user access to your software troubling. Or you thought the DRM provisions of the license unclear. On the other hand, maybeyou feel GPL3 is great and want to voice support for its unmodified adoption.

So, what can you do to provide your point of view to the Free Software Foundation (FSF)?

The FSF has created a formal GPL3 process definition outlining its proposed approach leading up to the final release of GPL3. In the Process Definition document, it details how you can offer feedback on the license, as well as a timeline of how the license comments will be incorporated into subsequent license drafts.

As part of the overall process, the FSF has organized four committees (imaginatively titled A, B, C, and D) to review, organize, and discuss submitted comments (more on the process of submitting comments shortly). Once a committee has thoroughly processed comments, it will forward its take on the issue to the FSF, which may modify the license to address the issue.

Each committee is initially made up of individuals the FSF invited to participate; however, the process envisions that the committees may grow via invitation to additional individuals by the committees themselves. Rather annoyingly, there is no description of the committees on the discussion committees website, making it difficult for a concerned individual to know which one he or she should consider applying for membership to.

Another shortcoming in the comment process is that, as far as I can tell, there is no way to view the comments that have been previously submitted. It would be invaluable to see other perspectives on the license issue one is concerned with before submitting your own comments.

Frankly, the process is not as open as it should be, given the stated intent of the FSF to offer a world-wide, transparent license review process. I would like to think that we’re seeing growing pains and the FSF will get a higher-quality process in place shortly; however, given the relatively short timeframes for review and license update, it’s critical that the comment framework be put into place asap.

With all that said, how can you offer your feedback on GPL3?

There are three methods for you to offer your comments, one direct, and two indirect.

The direct method is to insert your comment(s) in the online draft license. You can note the area of the license upon which you wish to comment and enter your comment. (You will need to register to enter a comment). After your comment has been entered, someone from FSF will examine the comment and forward it to the appropriate committee for consideration. If the comment addresses a topic about which other comments have already been received, the new comment will be associated with existing comments to further inform the appropriate committee’s consideration. If the comment addresses a new aspect of the license, the FSF will note that fact and forward the comment on to the appropriate committee. The comment submitter will receive a comment identification number to aid tracking of the comment and its resolution.

The two indirect methods of submitting comments involve working with the discussion committees themselves. According to the GPL3 Process Document, one may submit a comment to the committee itself, bypassing the online comment on the license draft (the Process Document discusses this method of submitting comments, but I can find no way to accomplish this on the GPL3 site). Alternatively, one may join a committee and thereby provide input to its deliberations as a member. The committees have mailing lists to discuss comments and issues – it’s not clear if one needs to be a committee member to access the lists (there doesn’t seem to be a method on the committee website to apply for membership, however).

Regarding the latter two license comment methods, the committees seem to be a work in progress; this is probably to be expected given they’ve only been up and running for a couple of weeks. However, since many organizations will wish to participate in the comment process more concretely, I hope the committees move quickly to get this mechanism up and running. In all fairness, this will be a challenge, since committee members are uncompensated volunteers who are involved in this effort in their spare time.

Should you wish to submit comments, I recommend moving swiftly. The FSF plans to release the new license in January 2007, with one or (possibly) two interim drafts during the intervening year. The key draft, in my view, will be the next draft, due in June 2006. I think it likely that the outline of the final license will be visible in that draft, so it’s critical that you get your input submitted in time for that draft. Your perspective on this license is critical, given the central role the GPL license plays (the GPL is used by about 70% of all open source products) in the open source ecosystem. Don’t miss your chance to make your voice heard.