GPLv3 Comes to the Rescue of GPL Violators

Nov 28, 2017

Red Hat adopts GPLv3 cure provisions to help companies fix GPL violations.

Red Hat is working with major tech companies, including Facebook, Google, and IBM, to make it easier for GPL violators to cure violations. The companies are adopting the cure provisions of GNU GPLv3 to help companies fix violations.

One of the biggest concerns when using open source components in commercial products is licence compliance. Multiple efforts are made by organizations like the Linux Foundation to help companies consume open source software without worrying about compliance. However, in some cases, like VMware, organizations such as The Software Freedom Conservancy take aggressive routes that end up hurting collaboration and open source projects in question. Such legal actions also send a shockwave that touching open source can be dangerous.

Companies don’t violate licences on purpose. “Most GPL violations occur by mistake, without ill will. Copyleft enforcement should assist these distributors to become helpful participants in the free software projects on which they rely,” said Joshua Gay of the Free Software Foundation.

However, these companies must have ways to fix the violations. GPLv2, one of the most prominent copyleft licences, permanently terminates permissions at the moment of violations. This heavy-handed approach discouraged cooperation and collaboration and led to more hostile resolutions like legal actions, which, besides lawyers, no one has any interest. Linus Torvalds once said that “we lose” the moment we get lawyers involved.

With GPLv3, The Free Software Foundation created an opportunity for users to address violations. It was a fix for the heavy-handed approach that GPLv2 adopted for violations. GPLv3 provides an opportunity to first time violators to restore all rights automatically once the violations are fixed. It was designed to attract more collaboration and amicable resolutions to violations instead of hostile actions.

Red Hat, Facebook, Google and IBM are committed to extending the GPLv3 approach to license compliance errors to the software code that each licenses under GPLv2 and LGPLv2.1 and v2.

With the adoption of this balanced approach, companies will feel more comfortable using open source components in their products without the fear of prosecution for any mistaken violation.

“We felt strongly that the large ecosystems of projects using GPLv2 and LGPLv2.x would benefit from adoption of this more balanced approach to termination derived from GPLv3,” said Red Hat in a blog post.

This step by Red Hat is a move in the right direction.

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