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Tuesday, 10 July 2012 12:41

Richard Fontana blows hot and cold on GPLv3 fork

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A lack of clarity on the part of Red Hat open source licensing and patent counsel Richard Fontana as to whether he has, or has not, created a fork of the GPLv3 free software licence has led to well-known free software advocate Bradley Kuhn dissociating himself from the project.

Fontana wrote that the project was aiming to produce a free, strong copyleft licence. But he described it to iTWire as "a toy project" he had begun to learn more about git, the version control system written by Linus Torvalds in 2005.

The GPLv3 is an updated version of the well-known GPLv2 free software licence. It was released on July 1, 2007.

A few days ago, the president of the Open Source Initiative, Simon Phipps, who writes a column for Infoworld, wrote that Fontana had created a fork of the GPLv3, called GPL.next. Phipps mentioned that the fork was created by Fontana as an individual.

Phipps also sought to drive home the point that the project was being posted on GitHub because it has advantages over other similar hosts.

GitHub uses a rewritten, proprietary version of git.

Phipps' blog post was linked to from Linux Weekly News. Fontana himself posted the first comment to that linked post.

."Note that the removal of the Preamble (and at least a rewrite of the How to Apply) are necessary to meet the FSF's conditions for creating derivative works of the GNU GPL text (as stated in the FSF's GNU licenses FAQ)," he wrote.

"However, I believe these two sections are worth removing from the license (sic) document anyway. (They of course have value as distinct documents.)"

In a separate post on LWN, Fontana added: "The eventual goal of the project is to produce a free, strong copyleft license, suitable for software and, perhaps, non-software works."

When the question of hosting the project on a free site was raised by the Fedora project's Rahul Sundaram, who also suggested that it be moved to Gitorious, Fontana said he planned to follow this suggestion and make a primary public instance of the project at Gitorious with a mirror at GitHub.

Fontana had cited Kuhn as a committer. When Kuhn was asked about the project, he said that it had been started by Fontana and advised me to ask him about it.

"Richard has been speaking for years about ideas he has for improvements to copyleft. My understanding is he wants to experiment with drafting ideas for copyleft, but this project is not affiliated with the GNU GPL," Kuhn told iTWire.

"Richard has recently renamed the project "Copyleft.next" to clarify that point."

CONTINUED


But when Fontana was asked about the reasoning behind the fork and when a trial version would be ready for public viewing, his response was rather surprising.

"Your statements are mistaken. I have not initiated any fork. Other than that, I have no comment: only the project co-maintainer, Bradley Kuhn, is authorized (sic) to speak to the media," he wrote back.

When I then asked whether both Phipps and the Linux Weekly News were lying, the Red Hat counsel took a different track.

"No. They are certainly NOT lying. You are not reading me right," he wrote. "The project has, in fact, officially clarified that it is not a "fork", which corrects a possible terminological/conceptual misunderstanding nondevelopers in particular may have. No further comment."

Kuhn was taken aback when he heard of this statement. "I'm as confused and surprised by the statement quoted above as you appear to be," he said. "I really don't understand what Fontana is talking about."

He said he was listed as a committer on gitorious "because Fontana added me as such, but that action can be taken unilaterally by the project creator (Fontana). He did not seek my permission before doing so.

"That said, I'm willing to give advice and assistance to any project that wants to explore ideas about copyleft, but I am in no way among the leadership nor directly involved with the copyleft.next (formerly GPL.next) project.

"To clarify the situation, I've asked Fontana, who unilaterally added me as a "committer" on copyleft.next, to remove me as such."

Fontana wrote back, saying: "I had assumed Bradley wanted to participate in the project as a committer in urging strongly that the project be centralized (sic) at Gitorious rather than GitHub.

"But anyway Bradley has been removed from the Gitorious project as a committer in accordance with his wishes.

"Sam, for the benefit of your leg not being pulled any further, this is for the most part (~90%+) not a serious project. It was initiated merely as a toy project as a way for me to learn more about using git. I am happy to report that after several days my knowledge of git has increased significantly. That doesn't seem very newsworthy to me."

The Free Software Foundation was asked for its take on Fontana's fork. The organisation has not yet responded.


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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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