Facebook, Google, Red Hat, IBM revisit open source licencing

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Four of the largest players in the open source arena - Facebook, Google, Red Hat and IBM - have joined forces to promote predictability in open source licensing, by committing to extend additional rights to rectify open source licence compliance errors.

Michael Cunningham, Red Hat's executive vice president and general counsel, said this was in line with the four organisations' belief in promoting greater fairness and predictability in licence enforcement and the growth of participation in the open source community.

According to Cunningham, Red Hat believes that enforcement of open source software licences should be judged by whether the activity fosters or discourages adoption of the software and collaboration and participation in open source development.

"Legal proceedings are generally a poor tool for achieving licence compliance, and should almost always be avoided. In the rare situation that they do occur, they should be conducted in a way that is fair, rational and predictable. We are particularly concerned about the possibility of opportunistic enforcement of open source licences for financial or personal gain and disparate court or other interpretations," he said.

The GNU General Public Licence (GPL) and GNU Lesser General Public Licence (LGPL) are among the most widely-used open source software licences, covering, among other software, critical parts of the Linux ecosystem.

To provide greater predictability to users of open source software, Red Hat, Facebook, Google and IBM have each committed to extending the GPLv3 approach for licence compliance errors to the software code that each licenses under GPLv2 and LGPLv2.1 and v2.

One of the main features in GPL version 3 is its specification of a cure period for licence noncompliance. The GPLv3 cure provision establishes specific and appropriate incentives for distributors to discover and fix compliance problems.

The move by the four companies is very similar to the recent enforcement statement adopted by the Linux kernel project, but is broader in scope. The Linux kernel enforcement statement is limited to Linux kernel contributions, while the latest commitment applies to all code licensed by us under GPLv2 and LGPLv2.x, which includes contributions to the Linux kernel and many other open source projects.

"We encourage other GPLv2 copyright holders to follow our lead," Cunningham added.

Mark Ringes, assistant general counsel at IBM, said that for many years, General Public Licence v2 and V3 had guided the development of the world's largest shared code base, Linux.

"Extending GPLv3's non-compliance cure provision to GPLv2 will enable the continued adoption and robust growth of Linux for decades to come. IBM has long been a leading supporter of Linux and open source and assists in the development of the Linux kernel. Deepening our commitment with this assertion is a natural evolution of that support," Ringes added.

Explaining Facebook's support of the move, Facebook's VP and deputy general counsel, Allen Lo said: "Open source accelerates the pace of innovation in the world. Extending the good-faith opportunity for developers to correct errors in licence compliance has the potential to help move the industry forward and allow engineers to focus on building great things."

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