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Linus Torvalds' claim that he won't put the Linux kernel under the next version of the General Public License could represent another fracture in a community once united for free software.
The Free Software Foundation is currently re-writing the GPL for the first time in 15 years. A draft GPL v 3.0 was recently released and is expected to undergo broad discussion and changes before the version is adopted. Torvalds' wrote on the Linux kernel mailing list Wednesday that what is generally considered one of the most widely-used pieces of free software under the GPL will stay under the current version.
"The Linux kernel is under the GPL version 2. Not anything else," he said. Some individual files are licensable under v3, but not the kernel in general. And quite frankly, I don't see that changing."
Torvalds objected to a new proposal that would require people to make previously private keys available, calling the idea "insane."
"I wouldn't do it. So I don't think the GPL v3 conversion is going to happen for the kernel, since I personally don't want to convert any of my code," he said.
GNU author Richard Stallman and his Free Software Foundation are Behind the push to make as much software as free as possible. Stallman believes that software should be free – as in freely distributed, free to revise and free to distribute in the revised form. The next version of the GPL is aimed at ensuring that while coping with changing laws and dynamics surrounding intellectual property.
Bruce Lehman, former U.S. commissioner of patents and trademarks under President Clinton and senior counsel at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, said he believes the latest news may show a weakening in the free software movement.
Lehman, who acknowledged during an interview Friday that purists in the free software movement may see him as the "Prince of Darkness" for helping write the Digital MillenniumCopyright Act, said open source software, which can be used in proprietary software, is more pragmatic.
"People who do work commercially, producing software and trying to sell it, are not going to want to agree to make everything they do free," Lehman, a patent lawyer said. "Only people with independent incomes, at universities, or consultants paid for their time and services, who are not getting paid for writing software, will."
Unlike Stallman, who spends much of his time promoting his philosophy on free software, Lehman said he doesn't see evidence of significant declined in patent quality. He said that is demonstrated in courts, where he believes patent quality is truly put to the test.
"If anything, it's the other way around, with patents being upheld by the courts," he said.