Feb 032006

In a post to the Linux Kernel Mailing List (LKML) last week, Linus Torvalds plainly stated that the Linux kernel would not be moving to the third revision of the General Public License (GPL). The reasons given in his post included the the requirement that developers publish their private keys and the amount of effort it would take to track down every kernel contributor to gain their permission to update the license of their code. Interestingly, he did not initially comment on the new, rigid restrictions version 3 places on using GPL software in conjunction with any Digital Rights Management (DRM) systems. Many in the community have conjectured the new DRM clause has influenced Torvald’s decision as much as any of the other changes, and NewsForge.com has published a summary of 3 posts that Linus has made to LKML over the last two days regarding this issue.

The new posts confirm that DRM is definitely a sticking point, but not because Torvalds favors DRM in any form, but rather because he feels the fight against DRM is better waged by content creators than software developers.

He says, “I personally think that the anti-DRM clause is much more sensible in the context of the Creative Commons licenses, than in software licenses. If you create valuable and useful content … protect that _content_ by saying that it cannot be used in any content-protection schemes.”

He believes that DRM can be marginalized if enough content is licensed this way. He goes on to point out that GPL’d software is already protected against DRM since the content (ie., source code) must always be available to the end user.

In his second post he addresses hardware that will only run signed kernels. In addition to believing that this is a good thing in some instances, he points out that closed systems are a hardware license issue and not a software issue. Consumers who have a problem with the hardware should simply not buy it. “Vote with your feet,” he suggests.

His final post provides a glimpse into what this is really about. More than DRM, it seems to be just another example of the ongoing philosophical conflict that exists between Torvalds and Free Software Foundation (FSF) founder Richard Stallman. While both men are on mission to change the way software is created, published, and used, Torvalds has always tried to do so in a more passive, less over-reaching manner than Stallman who has often been accused of being over zealous in his attempts to push his agenda.

According to Torvalds, the only thing he cares about is the part he created and is therefore responsible for, the software. “I _literally_ feel that we do not – as software developers – have the moral right to enforce our rules on hardware manufacturers. We are not crusaders, trying to force people to bow to our superior God. We are trying to show others that co-operation and openness works better.”

He does close the final post by saying that he is not against GPLv3 per se, but ends with his seemling unwavering decision, “I’m arguing that the GPLv3 is wrong for _me_, and it’s not the license I ever chose.”

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