Linus to FSF on GPLv3: No Thanks

Linus Torvalds

Linus Torvalds

Even though the first discussion draft of the third version of the General Public License is only a little over a week old, Linus Torvalds, father of the Linux kernel, has made it clear that the kernel source code will remain under GPLv2. The revelation came in a message Linus posted to a thread in the Linux Kernel Mailing List (LKML) yesterday. In addition to clearing up some confusion about the language the kernel’s license was originally published under, Torvalds succinctly and definitively summarized his position about transitioning to v3 saying, “Conversion isn’t going to happen.”

Some earlier posters to the thread mistook text from the GPL COPYING file included in the kernel source tree, specifically the phrase “version 2 of the License, or (at your option) any later version,” as being part of the license itself. According to Linus this phrase is just explanatory text included by the GPL’s FSF authors to give publishers the option of automatically accepting new versions of the GPL for their code, but only if they explicitly include that wording in their source. Some authors have done so, but most kernel contributors never did.

“…the extra blurb at the top of the COPYING file in the kernel source tree was added not to _change_ the license, but to _clarify_ these points so that there wouldn’t be any confusion.”

He emphasizes this point by saying, “The Linux kernel is under the GPL version 2. Not anything else. Some individual files are licenseable under v3, but not the kernel in general.”

He goes on to express his displeasure with the new requirement that developers’ private signing keys must be made available, something he is unwilling to do. Another point of contention which Linus did not cover may be version 3’s strict opposition to Digital Rights Management (DRM) which Torvald’s had previously indicated he may someday consider integrating into the kernel.

Interestingly Linus seems to have even caught chief kernel maintainer Alan Cox off guard. Cox had previously weighed in himself saying, “What finally happens is going to depend almost entirely on whether the GPL v3 is a sane license or not and on consensus, and it is way too early to figure that out.”

Even through the first draft of GPLv3 has been almost unanimously well received, the Linux kernel is probably the most famous GPL software, and for its creator to outright reject the new version this early in the discussion stage should make for some interesting dialog and revisions down the road.


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