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Linux Creator Calls GPLv3 Authors 'Hypocrites' As Open Source Debate Turns Nasty

Posted by Paul McDougall, Jul 10, 2007 12:21 PM

Linux creator Linus Torvalds said the authors of a new software license expected to be used by thousands of open source programmers are a bunch of hypocrites and likened them to religious fanatics -- the latest sign of a growing schism in the open source community between business-minded developers like Torvalds and free software purists.

In an online post, Torvalds slammed executives at the Free Software Foundation, likening their mind-set to that of "religious fanatics and totalitarian states."

The Free Software Foundation last month published a revised version of the General Public License, which governs the use of many open source programs.

Among several provisions viewed by many as anti-business is a GPLv3 rule forbidding commercial users of open source software from prohibiting customer modifications.

The provision was aimed in part at digital recorder manufacturer TiVo, which restricts customers from tampering with the software-based digital rights management technologies built into its boxes. The Free Software Foundation calls such policies "Tivoization" and, in a recent press release, referred to them as "malicious."

In a posting on the Linux kernel mailing list, Torvalds said the Free Software Foundation's position on Tivoization is one reason he won't license his Linux kernel under GPLv3. "The GPLv3 doesn’t match what I think is morally where I want to be," Torvalds wrote. "I think it is okay to control people's hardware, I do it myself," he continued.

The Linux kernel is presently licensed under the less-restrictive GPLv2.

It's more than just a debate among computer geeks. An increasing number of companies and government agencies -- including Wal-Mart Stores and the U.S. Defense Department -- are incorporating open source software into their infrastructures and products. And IBM has invested billions of dollars promoting open source software as an alternative to Microsoft's offerings.

As a result, the terms under which such software is available have become a critical business issue for many companies.

TiVo recently warned investors that GPLv3's anti-Tivoization rules may weaken its ability to include future digital rights management technologies in its set-top boxes. DRM is crucial to TiVo's ability to strike deals with content partners concerned about illegal duplication of their products.

Last week, Microsoft put a freeze on distributing any open source software licensed under GPLv3 through its alliance with Novell. Microsoft is believed to be concerned about a GPLv3 provision that forbids open source distributors from suing open source users. Microsoft claims Linux and other open source programs violate its intellectual property rights and may be looking to preserve its right to take legal action against them.

For Torvalds' part, it appears unlikely he'll ever adopt GPLv3 for the Linux kernel.

He accused the Free Software Foundation leadership, which includes eccentric, MIT-trained computing whiz Richard Stallman, of injecting their personal morality into the laws governing open source software with the release of GPLv3. "Only religious fanatics and totalitarian states equate 'morality' with 'legality,' " Torvalds wrote.

"There's tons of examples of that from human history. The ruler is not just a king, he's a God, so disagreeing with him is immoral, but it's also illegal, and you can get your head cut off," Torvalds continued, in a posting dated June 20.

Torvalds added that software developers that adopt GPLv3 "in the name of freedom, while you're at the same time trying to argue that I don't have the 'freedom' to make my own choice" are "hypocritical."

Stay tuned...

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