Constitutional affairs legal affairs


partment C: Citizens' Rights and Constitutional Affairs



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Policy Department C: Citizens' Rights and Constitutional Affairs 
____________________________________________________________________________________________ 
 
8
Proprietary software developers use copyright to take away the users' freedom; the GNU 
Project uses copyright to guarantee their freedom. That's why the name is reversed, 
changing “copyright” into “copyleft”.  
Copyleft is a general concept; there are many ways to fill in the details. In the GNU Project, 
the specific distribution terms that are used are contained in the GNU General Public 
License, the GNU Lesser General Public License (LGPL) and the GNU Free Documentation 
License (FDL).  
The appropriate license is included in many manuals and in each GNU source code 
distribution.  
The GNU GPL is designed so that it can easily be applied to any program by the copyright 
holder. The copyright holder doesn't have to modify the GNU GPL to do this, but just to add 
notices to the program which refer properly to the GNU GPL. However, if someone wishes 
to use the GPL, he/she must use its entire text: the GPL is an integral whole, and partial 
copies are not permitted. The same applies to the LGPL, Affero GPL, and FDL.  
Using the same distribution terms for many different programs makes it easy to copy code 
between various different programs. Since they all have the same distribution terms, there 
is no need to think about whether the terms are compatible. The Lesser GPL includes a 
provision that allows altering the distribution terms to the ordinary GPL, so that one can 
copy code into another program covered by the GPL.  
 
2   CREATING VERSION THREE OF THE GNU GENERAL 
PUBLIC LICENSE (GPLV3) 
On January 16th, 2006 the GPL version 3 revision process began with a conference at the 
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. With approximately 350 participants, including 87 
invited delegates serving on one of four discussion committees, this conference served as 
the public introduction to what would become a nearly 19 month consultation process 
designed to include every stake holder in one of the most widely used software licenses in 
the world. 
2.1
 
The GPLv2 
In January 2006, GPL version 2 was one of the most widely used software licenses in the 
world, a legal document tying together individuals, groups, governments, and private 
institutions on every continent. When GPLv2, the first version to achieve widespread 
adoption, was originally released in June 1991, Free Software was a small movement 
geographically centered around the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In the nearly 15 
years since that event, Free Software had grown by orders of magnitude, taking its place 
as a pillar of both business and non-commercial computer usage. The changing software 
landscape posed challenges for the 15 year old license. In the intervening years, software 
patents had become a reality in the United States, DRM technologies
12
 and anti-
circumvention laws were creating new restrictions on computer users’ freedoms, software 
licensed under the GPL had spread to a multitude of different legal jurisdictions, and new 
Free Software licenses had been written with provisions that made them technically 
incompatible with the GPL even where the communities using both licenses wished to 
cooperate. Change was needed to address these issues but rewriting the license by itself 
would have little effect. The GPL itself is not a law and all participants in the community 
join voluntarily. Changing the legal norms of that community would require a large process 
of outreach, discussion, and listening to ensure that the final terms of the new license 
would be not just acceptable but attractive to all members. After six months of planning, 
the Free Software Foundation and the Software Freedom Law Center launched the GPLv3 
revision campaign to do just that. 
                                                 
12 “Digital Restrictions Management” or “Digital Rights Management” tools, known more commonly as “DRM,” are 
access control technologies that seek to dictate what an individual may do with digital content.  


Workshop: Legal aspects of free and open source software 
____________________________________________________________________________________________ 
 
9
2.2
 
The Process Definition 
From the beginning the GPLv3 revision process was designed to be inclusive and 
transparent. As such, it began with the release of a Process Definition document
13
 outlining 
the structure of the revision process. This listed how many drafts were planned, the 
estimated time frame for their release, what information would be released about the 
reasoning behind any changes to the license at each stage, how to participate in the 
process, how that participation would be incorporated in writing new versions, and FSF’s 
guiding principles in revising the license. While the final version of this 22 page document 
was released on January 15, 2006, just before the first international conference, early 
versions had been available to the public for six weeks prior to that date. Even in defining 
the process FSF wished to listen to the community. The final process definition outlined 
three main avenues for public participation: commenting on the public website, attending 
one of the international conferences, or participating on one of four discussion committees. 
 
3
 
THE PUBLIC CONSULTATION 
3.1 
The Website: Stet 
In order to enable direct participation in changing the text of the GPL, and do so on a large 
scale, the FSF commissioned the construction of custom software named “Stet”. Stet’s goal 
was to enable transparent commenting on versions of the license text as they were 
released. This required both the ability to easily make comments, either through the web or 
via email, and the ability to see what portions of the text others had commented on. At the 
time, this kind of collaborative commenting system was completely novel. After the 
successful completion of the GPL revision process, a number of government representatives 
contacted SFLC and FSF about adopting Stet for use in public discussions of pending 
legislation. FSF released Stet as free software under the GPL, and it has even been 
improved upon and enhanced into the “co-ment”
14
 system by Phillip Aigrain’s Paris-based 
firm Sopinspace.
15
  
As discussed in the comment system documentation,
16
 every effort was made to ensure 
that public discussion would remain productive. This was accomplished through a focus on 
diplomacy and public engagement at all times and by requiring that each comment be tied 
to specific language in the draft or language that should be inserted into the draft rather 
than opening the door to demands and opinions disconnected from license text. As a result, 
and despite sometimes heated tempers during the course of the 19 month process, the 
public comments remained productive without any moderation. 
In total, 2,635 comments were made over the course of the revision process. All four drafts 
of the GPLv3 are still available with their public comments visible. As explained in the 
documentation, areas of the text with highlighting indicate areas with corresponding 
comments. The color of the highlight indicates the volume of the comments on that section
with yellow as the lowest volume of comments and red as the highest volume. In order to 
view the comments associated with a particular highlighted section, one simply needs to 
click on the text and the comments will load on the screen to the right of the license text. 

 
Draft 1, with 967 comments
17
 

 
Draft 2, with 727 comments
18
 

 
Draft 3, with 649 comments
19
 

 
Draft 4, with 292 comments
20
 
                                                 
13
 http://gplv3.fsf.org/original-process-definition/
 
14
 http://www.co-ment.com/
 
15
 http://www.sopinspace.com
 
16
 http://gplv3.fsf.org/wiki/index.php/Comment_system
 
17
 http://gplv3.fsf.org/comments/gplv3-draft-1
 
18
 http://gplv3.fsf.org/comments/gplv3-draft-2
 
19
 http://gplv3.fsf.org/comments/gplv3-draft-3
 



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