Time to get your paperwork in order

Keep lawsuits out of open source with GPLv3 extension, says Red Hat, Google, & Facebook

Jane Elizabeth
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A coalition of tech giants including Red Hat, Google, Facebook, IBM, and more are adopting a more measured approach towards open source licensing agreements with GPLv3. Because apparently, lawsuits are not great at creating a productive collaborative environment. Who knew?

Still missing some open source software licenses? You have an extra amnesty period to get everything sorted before the lawyers are mobilized. Well, probably not.

This week, Google, Facebook, IBM, and Red Hat jointly announced a 60-day extension for compliance violators to get everything in order under the GPLv3. This extension means that code under GPLv2, LGPLv2.1 and LGPLv2 licensees have an additional period of time to get their affairs in order and come into compliance before their licenses are terminated.

By committing to these extensions for violators to fix open source compliance errors and mistakes, they promote additional predictability in open source licensing and maintain a social attitude for the open source community at large.

Open source licenses should foster the adoption of the software and increase collaboration and development of the project. Lawsuits tend to put a damper on that kind of thing.

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GPL (short for GNU General Public License) is one of the most widely used free open source software licenses, which allows users to run, study, share, and modify software. GPL is a derivative copyleft, meaning that modified software must be released under the same terms.

GPL’s extremely permissive license standards have been a bedrock foundation for the Linux kernel and the GNU Compiler Collection. It makes sharing and collaboration possible. And the GPL is meant to encourage Linux adoption.

GPLv3 has been around for ten years and the grace period between GPLv2 and other versions is running out. Now, companies should be making moves towards updating their software licenses.

“For many years, General Public License v2 and V3 have guided the development of the world’s largest shared code base, Linux,” said Mark Ringes, IBM assistant general counsel. “Extending GPLv3’s non-compliance cure provision to GPLv2 will enable the continued adoption and robust growth of Linux for decades to come.”

As Red Hat’s team dryly stated, “Legal proceedings are generally a poor tool for achieving license compliance, and should almost always be avoided.”

The big concern is opportunistic enforcement of open source licenses for financial or personal gain. By publicizing their commitment to predictability, these tech giants are encouraging others to copy their stance and forbear lawsuits

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However, only time will tell if this kind of encouragement will actually have any effect on other copyright (or copyleft) holders. As Bruce Perens, one of the founders of the open-source movement, said, “If someone wants to litigate and not wait a day, that person could.”

Jane Elizabeth
Jane Elizabeth is an assistant editor for

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