GPLv3 and Steve Ballmer's blood pressure

I'm currently having the pleasure of being part of the GPLv3 Conference Europe. It's been a pleasure to meet folks like Georg Greve (FSF Europe), David Turner (FSF GPL compliance lab), Eben Moglen (FSF, SFLC) again.

There seems to be significant progress in the GPLv3 process since my latest status updates at the 2nd international conference in Porto Alegre (Brasil) some months ago.

To one part, the second draft of the license is supposed to be published in roughly one month from now. As Richard Stallman pointed out, the most significant changes that we're likely to see are:

  • Renaming of the "liberty or death" clause to "no surrendering others freedom"
  • More precise wordings on the frequently-misinterpreted DRM clause, removing the section on provision for "unencrypted output". The latter clause is basically superfluous, since if you have access to the full source, and a means to install a modified version of the source, you can easily remove any encryption routines for the output.
  • Probably an option that if you only distribute binaries, then it's sufficient to provide the source code on a network server, rather than having to provide it per mail order. This still requires some feedback. I personally disagree with this, sine there really are many [both real and potential] users of Free Software who live in low-bandwidth areas. Yes, there might be services which download software from the net and write CD-R's for you, but do we know that such services exist (and will continue to exist) in all those areas?
  • There was some necessity to rewrite the explicit patent license. There is no change in function.
  • Introduce some new wording such as the concept of "conveying a copy" rather than using the term propagation (or even the old US-centric "distribution"). This wording tries to depart from any US legal terms and rather defines some own terms. As a side-effect, it cleanly solves cases such like peer-to-peer sharing networks (where every downloading user also distributes [partial] copies to other users.

Also, as I figured from conversations with Eben and David, to my personal pleasure and acknowledgement, the wording of the "60 days clause" has been changed in a way to make its intent quite a bit more clear.

Another interesting point was the fact that I learned about a detail in GPLv2. Apparently the Section 3b (accompany object code with a written offer to provide the source code later on a physical storage medium) was never intended for online distribution. This paragraph was only meant for physical distribution. All online object code distribution should actually also have online source code distribution. Unfortunately this intent didn't actually become visible in the license, and now we have cases like Buffalo, where the vendor tries to actually make it as hard as possible to obtain source code (only one product source code per cd, have user send a CD-R with return envelope, plus some fee for copying, for each version of the firmware).

Oh, and how does Steve Ballmer's blood pressure fit into the picture? Eben Moglen gave one of his most eloquent and visionary presentations, in which he interpreted recent and current events in and around Microsoft as the signs of the eve of the downfall, and that Free Software will be keeping Mr. Ballmers blood pressure at high levels ;)