Tech leaders team up to improve predictability in open source licensing

Published: November 27th, 2017

Red Hat, Inc., Facebook, Inc., Google, and IBM Corp. are joining forces to help alleviate open source licence issues, including compliance errors and mistakes.

The GNU General Public Licence (GPL) and GNU General Public Licence (LGPL) are two of the most common open source software licences, covering almost all software, including parts of the Linux system. The third version of GPL (GPLv3) includes an express termination approach that gives users the opportunities to fix errors in licence compliance in a faster and more efficient manner than before.

Now, the trio has committed to extending the express termination feature to the previous two versions of GPL to provide better predictability to users of open source software.

“This termination policy in GPLv3 provided a more reasonable approach to errors and mistakes, which are often inadvertent,” the companies’ Nov. 27 press release says. “This approach allows for enforcement of licence compliance that is consistent with community norms.”

The companies have all committed to the “irrevocable”, “binding”, and “enforceable” change, using the below common language:

Before filing or continuing to prosecute any legal proceeding or claim (other than a Defensive Action) arising from termination of a Covered Licence, [Company] commits to extend to the person or entity (“you”) accused of violating the Covered Licence the following provisions regarding cure and reinstatement, taken from GPL version 3. As used here, the term ‘this Licence’ refers to the specific Covered Licence being enforced.

However, if you cease all violation of this Licence, then your licence from a particular copyright holder is reinstated (a) provisionally, unless and until the copyright holder explicitly and finally terminates your licence, and (b) permanently, if the copyright holder fails to notify you of the violation by some reasonable means prior to 60 days after the cessation.                    

Moreover, your licence from a particular copyright holder is reinstated permanently if the copyright holder notifies you of the violation by some reasonable means, this is the first time you have received notice of violation of this Licence (for any work) from that copyright holder, and you cure the violation prior to 30 days after your receipt of the notice.

Essentially, this means if a company is accused of violating a licence agreement, before their licence can officially be terminated, Google, Facebook, and Red Hat will allow their licence to be tentatively reinstated as long as they stop the activities that count as violations, or permanently if the copyright holder doesn’t notify them of the violations 60 days before termination. The note goes on to say that licences can be permanently reinstated even after violating terms if the company in question stops the violating activities before 30 days after receiving a notice, and that being their first notice from the copyright holder.

Red Hat has also provided answers to several frequently asked questions on its website.