The Torvalds Transcript: Why I 'Absolutely Love' GPL Version 2

An InformationWeek article (via Matt) delves into how Linus feels about the GPLv3. This is a topic I’ve covered before, but the interview has some good explanations:

Linus: First off, I don’t even know what the GPLv3 will look like. I would be totally crazy to accept a license for my code sight unseen. I think people who just say “version 2 or any later version” on their code probably don’t care about the license of their code enough. Before I say that “yes, you can use my code under license X,” I’d better know *what* that license is.

So that’s an issue totally independent of any particular GPLv3 details. The reason Linux has that “GPLv2 only” language is exactly that I simply don’t want to be at the mercy of somebody else when it comes to something as important as the license I choose for my code.

So I can’t even imagine why anybody would ever expect me to do anything but “v2 only.” It’s just stupid to do anything else.

Now, totally independently of that, I’m doubly happy that I long, long since made that decision because at least the drafts of the GPLv3 have been much worse than the GPLv2 is. They’ve had glaring technical problems (license proliferation with not just one single GPLv3, but “GPLv3 with various additional rights and various additional restrictions”), and while I certainly hope that the final GPLv3 won’t have those obvious problems, I’ve been singularly unimpressed with the drafts.

Finally, the real basic issue is that I think the Free Software Foundation simply doesn’t have goals that I can personally sign up to. For example, the FSF considers proprietary software to be something evil and immoral.

Me, I just don’t care about proprietary software. It’s not “evil” or “immoral,” it just doesn’t matter. I think that Open Source can do better, and I’m willing to put my money where my mouth is by working on Open Source, but it’s not a crusade — it’s just a superior way of working together and generating code.

I’ve never understood the “or any later version” clause either. You’re basically implicitly trusting whomever runs the FSF in perpetuity. That seems like a bad idea, regardless of whether you trust RMS now or not. He continues:

So the FSF and I really don’t agree on some very fundamental things. I absolutely love the GPLv2 — because it embodies that “develop in the open” model. So with the GPLv2, we had a thing where everybody could come around it, and share in that model.

But the FSF seems to want to change the model, and the GPLv3 drafts have not been about developing code in the open, they’ve been about what you can do with that code. To go back to the science example, it’s like saying that not only should the science be peer-reviewed and open, but you also add the requirement that you cannot use it to build a bomb.

Matt puts it well when he says “We need to be careful about trying to thwart all future wrongdoing with present understanding. It’s just fraught with difficulty..” It does seem like the FSF may be trying to do a bit more with a software license than they should. That being said, the GPLv2 has been a spectacular success, so they clearly know what they are doing. I’m really hoping the next draft clears some of these issues up, but I fear that the recent Novell-Microsoft patent deal may make the FSF even more ardent in some of the sections.

–jeremy

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