And what does the FSF have, anyway?
Following up with my previous post, it seems the FSF’s board is taking good care of undermining the FSF itself. Over few days, it has:
- Lost support from tens of organizations and companies, several of them important funders for the FSF’s activities
- Alienated long-standing staff within it, leading to many important resignations
- Divided the overall free software community, gathering several thousand signatures both repudiating its actions and backing it
- In the Debian project, we have started a General Resolution process, with opinions all over the spectrum, to gauge whether the project will back either of the positions — or none.
Now… Many people have pointed to the fact that the FSF has been a sort of a moral leader pushing free software awareness… But if they lose their moral statre, what’s in there? What power do they bear? Why do we care?
And the answer, at least one of them, is simple — and strong. The General Public License (GPL), both in its v2 and v3 revisions, read:
Each version is given a distinguishing version number. If the Program specifies that a certain numbered version of the GNU General Public License "or any later version" applies to it, you have the option of following the terms and conditions either of that numbered version or of any later version published by the Free Software Foundation. If the Program does not specify a version number of the GNU General Public License, you may choose any version ever published by the Free Software Foundation.
Years ago there was a huge argument on why Linux was licensed as GPLv2 only, without the option to relicense under GPLv3. Of course, by then, Linux had had thousands of authors, and they would all have to agree to change license… so it would have been impossible even if it were wanted. But yes, some people decried several terms of GPLv3 not being aligned with their views of freedom.
Well, so… if the FSF board manages to have it their way, and get everybody mark them as irrelevant, they will still be the stewards of the GPL. Thousands of projects are licensed under the GPL v2 or v3 “or later”. Will we continue to trust the FSF’s stewardship, if it just becomes a board of big egos, with no respect of what happens in the free software ecosystem?
My suggestion is, for all project copyright holders that are in a position to do so, to drop the “or-later” terms and stick to a single, known GPL version.