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In connection with the kickoff of the Red Hat Summit tomorrow in San Francisco, Red Hat is encouraging open source developers to show their support for greater fairness and predictability in open source license enforcement by joining the GPL Cooperation Commitment.  

At Red Hat, we believe that license enforcement should ordinarily be judged by whether they ultimately foster greater adoption of open source software and participation in open source development. License enforcement can help to ensure that all companies play by the same rules, but enforcement tactics that are overly aggressive, unfair or unpredictable can discourage users from joining the community.

It is our experience that engineers generally want to “do the right thing” when it comes to license compliance but compliance may not always be straightforward.. The General Public License (GPL) requires “things to be done right” to ensure the well-being of the ecosystem and, in many cases, that means strict compliance (such as providing a copy of the license with your distribution).  At times, however, licensees may misinterpret the requirements of the GPL or fail to comply fully. It is not that they are trying to avoid compliance but rather may have a simple misunderstanding about what is required or may make an honest (but ultimately unsuccessful) attempt to comply.

Version 3 of the GPL has a “cure” provision that basically says that if you are not in compliance, you have a period of time to correct that non-compliance before the license terminates. This means that licensees have the ability to correct their mistakes. This creates greater predictability in open source license enforcement and, likewise, encourages increased participation and growth in the open source ecosystem. Innovation takes a village and fairness and predictability are keys to growing that village.

Red Hat and others believe it is important to provide incentives to organizations who seek to ―and actually do―comply and fix their mistakes. The cure provisions in GPLv3 provide such an incentive.  This is why Red Hat, IBM, Google, Facebook, CA Technologies, Cisco, HPE, Microsoft, SAP, and SUSE recently committed to providing a cure period for correcting license compliance issues in GPLv2 software, similar to what is provided in the GPLv3. (See the first and second announcements about these commitments.)  The Linux kernel project also adopted this approach in their Linux Kernel Enforcement Statement, and the Free Software Foundation and Software Freedom Conservancy embodied the concept in their Principles of Community-Oriented GPL Enforcement.  This concept originated with the Software Freedom Law Center and the Free Software Foundation in their pioneering work on GPLv3.

Red Hat wants to continue this momentum with the GPL Cooperation Commitment.

The GPL Cooperation Commitment allows individuals to show their support for a fair and more predictable approach to enforcement.  It is similar to the commitments described above but is designed for individuals, focusing on copyrights an individual may own in a personal capacity and licensed under the GPLv2. The commitment is located on GitHub for anyone to sign. It’s easy. Just clone the repo, add your name to the bottom of the commitment text, and submit a pull request. Visit GitHub to learn more.  

We’re encouraging all engineers and open source advocates to make the commitment, even if you don’t currently own and license GPLv2 code. It would apply to your current and any future GPLv2 code and you’d be demonstrating your support for a more cooperative and predictable approach to license enforcement.

Please join us. Make the commitment today.

What an exciting time for open source.

Jeffrey Kaufman is Open Source IP counsel at Red Hat.

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