The new GNU General Public License (GPL) version 3 is not a fit for Linux because switching would require permission from the kernel's thousands of owners. That's according to a maintainer of the SCSI portion of the kernel.
Although the earlier GPLv2 has been used with Linux, GPLv3, released by the Free Software Foundation June 29, presents problems, according to James Bottomley, gatekeeper of the Linux Kernel SCSI Maintainership, which governs disk storage access in the kernel.
The Linux kernel is not owned by any one person; it is owned by all the people who submit patches to it, Bottomley said. This means the kernel is now owned by anywhere from 3,500 to 10,000 people, he said.
"In order to change the kernel, we'd have to get everybody who owns the kernel to sign off on the re-licensing," said Bottomley, who also is CTO of SteelEye Technology and a member of the Linux Foundation board of directors. This would be required under copyright law, he said.
This presents obvious practical problems should the keepers of the kernel decide they want to move to GPL v3. "We'd have to find all of the owners, first of all," Bottomley said.
The lack of a compelling advantage to GPLv3 "means we're not going to bother," Bottomley said.
A plebiscite could be announced to decide the issue, but a code contributor still could object to any switch, said Bottomley. "The choice at that point would be to rewrite their code or abandon the process," he said.
The GPLv2 and v3 licenses are incompatible, he said. The Linux kernel will stick with GPLv2 for the foreseeable future, Bottomley said.
Previously, Linux kernel developer Linus Torvalds has objected to GPLv3 because of concerns that digital rights management stipulations in the new license would be burdensome.
The Free Software Foundation did not provide a response to Bottomley's claims on Thursday. The founder and president of the foundation, Richard Stallman has advocated migration to GPLv3 for free software, emphasising improvements in such areas as digital rights management and patent protection.
Microsoft posted a statement on its website that said the company is not a party to GPLv3 and that none of the company's actions are to be misinterpreted as accepting status as a contracting party of the licence.
The company also said it assumes no legal obligations under GPLv3.
"While there have been some claims that Microsoft's distribution of certificates for Novell support services, under our interoperability collaboration with Novell, constitutes acceptance of the GPLv3 license, we do not believe that such claims have a valid legal basis under contract, intellectual property, or any other law," Microsoft said.
"In fact, we do not believe that Microsoft needs a license under GPL to carry out any aspect of its collaboration with Novell, including its distribution of support certificates, even if Novell chooses to distribute GPLv3 code in the future," Microsoft said.
Under a multifaceted agreement with Novell, both companies agreed to not sue each other's customers over intellectual property issues; Microsoft through the arrangement can sell Novell subscription certificates for SuSE Linux. Microsoft has decided the support certificates will not entitle the recipient to receive support or updates relating to code licensed under GPLv3.