Open Source

The "tivoization-less" GPL


So version 3 of the GPL is out! Sadly the announcement came without out so much as a whimper from the world. That's too bad because there is one thing about the new GPL that any champion of open source software will cheer about: no more tivoization of open source code.

What does this "tivoization" mean? Simple. Appliances, such as the Tivo (hence the name) frequently use open source code/software. Problem is a lot of those appliance makers use that code but then slip in their own "locked down" non-free code and refuse to let users or developers alter that code. The Tivo goes so far as shutting down if it detects any code has been modified. That is NOT the way of open source. But it was the way of version 2 of the GPL. Tivo-like appliance were free to do as they pleased because version 2 did not take into consideration the idea that some manufacturers would create appliances that used open source software but didn't abide by what the GPL asked - keep the software free.

Now, however, the GPL takes Tivo and Tivo-like appliances into consideration and (as quoted from Richard Stallman:

GPLv3 ensures you are free to remove the handcuffs. It doesn't forbid DRM, or any kind of feature. It places no limits on the substantive functionality you can add to a program, or remove from it. Rather, it makes sure that you are just as free to remove nasty features as the distributor of your copy was to add them. Tivoization is the way they deny you that freedom; to protect your freedom, GPLv3 forbids tivoization.

To me this is a big leap forward for open source and the GPL. Over the years there have been a number of major players who have taken open source code, used it, and locked it down so users can not alter or adapt the software to meet their needs (which touches the very heart of the Linux operating system by the way.)

Of course this isn't perfect. Why? Because version 2 of the GPL still lives. Tivo can still exist under the GPL so long as it only states it adheres to version 2. That would tell users "Yes we are open source but you can not alter our code." Should Tivo make the mistake and claim they follow v3 of the GPL they will find themselves in a heap of trouble.

So now, if you decide to purchase an appliance with open source software, you can check the license and base your decision to purchase on which version of the GPL the company has signed up for.

This of course can protect GPL (version 3) protected code from such companies as Microsoft who very easily might use a snippet of open source code in their own code-base. Should they do this, and they claim v3 of the GPL, then they better be ready to allow users to get their fingers dirty with their code. This will not happen of course. If Microsoft is smart they would just claim v2 of the code and close it all up as usual. And now, that would be fine. Why is this fine? Because the hard-core open source users/developers are only going to be using code protected by v3 of the GPL anyway. But GPL v3 goes even further with protection. Releasing a program under v3 now protects from any future attempts by Microsoft to collect royalties from the users.

There are so many reasons why v3 of the GPL takes a grand leap forward. Both users and businesses will not have to worry that companies and ambulance-chasing lawyers are going to come breathing down their necks threatening law suits because their software infringes on a patent that probably shouldn't have been awarded in the first place.

I applaud the FSF for taking steps to further protect not only the open source developer but the end user and the companies wanting to use open source software. So to all those corporations, companies, mom-and-pops, and users who have been afraid of using open source for fear of being sued, looks like you can breathe a sigh of relief because the FSF has your back.

And should you want to read the entire text of GPL v3 Here It is.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

1 comments
Melisa
Melisa

While it's true that there was not a flood of projects jumping over to GPL3 upon it's first week in the wild, Palamida tracked that 119 had moved over as of Friday, and had done so as a show of support for the license and its tenets. Additionally, there are over 2,000 plus more that have indicated they will also move, but the industry won't likely see any action until the next rev of the projects come out. Doing a quick query against our gpl3.palamida.com database, our research indicates that there are at least 460 projects we are tracking who explicitly licensed under GPL v2 (without the ?or later? clause). Our gpl3.palamida.com database is a subset of open source projects that we include in our compliance database of over 780,000 open source projects and their versions. It's tipping the scales at over 3 Terabytes currently. We launched gpl3.palamida.com a week ago because customers were looking for some general market information about GPL adoption, and we wanted to share the intensive research we are doing with the boarder community. With the GPL information site, what has surprised us is the large number of direct submissions we have been getting from the community who want to be sure we are tagging their GPL status as well, hence our new section of the recent updates to the database. So given that the license is just over a week old, it's a bit early to make predictions on what the end-result will look like. We didn't expect to see a massive flood at the onset and we aren't expecting one later either. What we DID expect, and it's evident by the numbers, is that a steady trickle to the new license will continue, with those staying "neutral" until they find a compelling reason to do otherwise. Melisa LaBancz-Bleasdale Senior Communications Manager, Palamida