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Today, a coalition of technology companies led by Red Hat, announced that we are each adopting a more balanced approach to open source license enforcement. At Red Hat, we believe that license enforcement activities should ordinarily be judged by fairness and 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.
This means that where enforcement does occur, it should be conducted in a manner that is fair and predictable. In our view, legal proceedings are generally a poor tool for achieving license compliance and can have adverse consequences for the vitality of open source software and licenses. Courts are ill-equipped to understand and appreciate the many nuances associated with open source licenses, including generally accepted community interpretations of license terms. As a result, litigation can lead to unpredictable outcomes that may not be beneficial to collaboration and future license interpretation. For these reasons, we believe that litigation should almost always be avoided.
In addition, we believe that copyright holders should adopt compliance approaches that provide fair opportunities for licensees to correct noncompliance. In today’s announcement, a coalition of technology companies led by Red Hat (including Facebook, Google, and IBM) has each committed to providing additional flexibility to their GPLv2, LGPLv2.1 and LGPLv2 licensees by giving these licensees a period of time to come into compliance before their licenses are terminated.
Red Hat releases much of the software it develops under licenses in the GPL family, reflecting both the choices made by the upstream community projects we depend on and the preferences of our own engineers, among others. When GPL version 3 (GPLv3) was released 10 years ago, one important improvement was its termination policy, which offered users specific opportunities to cure license violations. This GPLv3 change addressed what some, including Red Hat, viewed as a potential for overly-harsh approaches in GPLv2 enforcement, especially in cases of inadvertent noncompliance. The GPLv2 termination approach can be taken by some to provide an undue advantage to copyright holders who use aggressive enforcement tactics. We felt strongly that the large ecosystems of projects using GPLv2 and LGPLv2.x would benefit from adoption of this more balanced approach to termination derived from GPLv3.
Accordingly, Red Hat and the other companies (Facebook, Google, and IBM) are today each individually committing to apply the cure provisions of GPLv3 to our respective copyrighted code that is licensed under GPLv2, LGPLv2.1 and LGPLv2 (except in cases of a defensive response to a legal proceeding).
Innovation takes a village and we note that the Linux kernel project recently 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. We also note the prior and significant intellectual contributions of the Software Freedom Law Center and the Free Software Foundation in their pioneering work on GPLv3 that laid the foundation for this approach.
We encourage other copyright holders to follow our collective lead and hope that these efforts will promote the growth of the large ecosystems of open source projects that use and depend on our collective software contributions.
Red Hat’s commitment can be found here.
About the author
Red Hat is the world’s leading provider of enterprise open source software solutions, using a community-powered approach to deliver reliable and high-performing Linux, hybrid cloud, container, and Kubernetes technologies.