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The following is a transcript of Richard Stallman's presentation made at the second international GPLv3 conference, held in Porto Alegre in conjunction with the International Free Software Forum (FISL). Good quality videos of the entire conference should become available online in the future. This transcript was made from a low quality recording made with a digital camera. There are some gaps due to hardware limitations.
Transcription of this event was undertaken by Ciaran O'Riordan. Please support work such as this by joining the Fellowship of FSFE, and by encouraging others to do so.
Richard Stallman launched the GNU project in 1983, and with it the Free Software movement. Stallman is the president of FSF - a sister organisation of FSFE.
The speech was made in English.
[Richard starts by noting bad news that he has heard the Brazillian patent office is now accepting software patents and says that this is the most important thing for Latin American Free Software supporters to work on in the coming months.]
Richard Stallman: So now I will turn to the subject I was supposed to speak about, which is somewhat related: the GNU General Public License, or the GNU GPL for short.
[section: What is the GNU GPL and Free Software?]
First of all: what is the GNU General Public License?
The GNU General Public License is a Free Software licence, that means a licence which is designed to give you four essential freedoms - the four freedoms that define Free Software.
A program is Free Software if you, the user, have these four freedoms:
With these four freedoms, the program is Free Software because it is distributed in an ethical fashion and respects the user's individual freedom and respects the social solidarity of their community.
If you one of these freedoms is missing, that means the program is distributed in an anti-social way that tramples the user's freedom, that attacks social solidarity, in a way that keeps the users divided and helpless, in a way that should never be done. So, any licence that grants the user these four freedoms is a Free Software licence.
There are many Free Software licences - too many perhaps - it's somewhat inconvenient when there are so many but the fact is that anyone can write a license that grants these four freedoms, and that is a Free Software licence. If it does grant these four freedoms, it is a Free Software licence.
The GNU General Public License was among the first Free Software licences. I do know of one that existed before and that is the licence of TeX, but the GNU General Public License was designed specifically to be a Free Software licence.
[section: What is copyleft?]
There are two broad categories of Free Software licences. Those that are copyleft and those that are not.
Copyleft means that the licence actively defends the freedom of all users and what this means is: we don't just stop with giving you these four freedoms but we ensure that every user that gets a copy of the program gets the same four freedoms in the same way.
This is the idea of copyleft. A non-copyleft licence grants the four freedoms but it allows creating modified versions which are not free at all which means that by the time the program gets to you, it might have passed through some intermediary who has taken away the freedom, so you might get the code without the freedom. Whereas a copyleft licence says that when intermediaries pass the code along to you, they must give you the same freedom they got from us. So you must get the freedom. All users must get the freedom. That is the basic idea of copyleft.
So the GNU General Public License says: you are permitted to modify this program, you are permitted to copy this program, you are permitted to distribute those copies, you are permitted to distribute modified versions. But there's a condition: whatever version you distribute, must be under this licence, and it must be available as source code. That means that people who get it from you will get the same freedom that you got, so all the users get those freedoms.
[section: Pre-history: before the GNU GPL]
The first General Public Licenses that I worked on in the 1980s were for individual GNU programs. For instances, GNU Emacs had the GNU Emacs General Public License, but then I realised that there was a problem. Different GNU packages had licences which were just slightly different because each licence had to state the name of the program that covers it. So GNU Emacs had the GNU Emacs General Public License and GCC had the GCC General Public License and they were the same except that one says that it is the GNU Emacs General Public License and the other said it was the GCC General Public License, which meant that they were not actually the same, they were just isomorphic.
And this was a practical problem. I realised that it would be much more convenient if the licences were identical in all programs, so I worked on this some more and I arranged that the licence did not need to have the name of the program in it anymore. So the licence for Emacs could be word for word identical to the licence in GCC.
So the GNU General Public License version 1 was published in 1989 as a Free Software copyleft licence that you could drop into your program in order to release your program under that licence.
[section: The "Liberty or Death" clause, the main change from v1 to v2]
Some fairly small changes were made to produce version 2 in 1991. I think the biggest change in version 2 was to introduce a "Liberty or Death" clause - the clause that says if somebody uses a patent or something else to effectively make a program non-free then it cannot be distributed at all. And the reason is this clause is extremely important. You see, there is nothing we can do to take away the legal problem of software patents. If somebody has a patent that covers a free program, he can stop that program from being distributed. He can sue everybody who distributes it if he wants to actually pay lawyers to do that.
We can't prevent that by what we put in the licence for the program itself, but we can prevent something that's even worse. A fate that's worse than death for the program and that is suppose the patent holder says to every distributor "I'll sue you unless you take out a licence and pay me" and thus in effect, people will have to get permission and pay for permission to distribute the program, it would not be a free program anymore.
We can't write our licence to make software patents go away, but we can write our licence so that they can kill the program but they can't enslave it.
This makes a difference because if they thought that by suing, they could make everybody pay them, it would be extremely attractive, extremely tempting to do that. And so we would be seeing lots of free programs that had been made effectively be proprietary, whose licences have become fiction because you wouldn't really have the freedoms that they say you have.
To kill the program is less attractive because that doesn't bring you money - at least not directly. So by saying "You can kill this program but you can't enslave it's users", to some extent we have protected ourselves from either one because only if somebody is acting from malice, from an attempt to just cause trouble for us, does he gain.
Of course, there are some companies that do have patents that might want to attack us just for the sake of making us fail and one of them has obtained substantial presence here and asks for our cooperation, but at least this clause - the "Liberty of Death" clause - does some good. That was the main change in version 2 in 1991.
Back then, 1991, it was mostly parts of the GNU system, GNU packages, that used the GNU General Public License, but during the 1990s many other people started writing Free Software and releasing their programs under the GNU GPL. It was designed so that this would be easy to do, I hoped people would do this, and in the 1990s they started. So, the result is that the GNU GPL is now the principal free software licence, used for about 70% of Free Software packages.
[section: Why change it? It was always in the plan, hence "or any later version"]
So why are we changing it? Well, from the very beginning, I figured that we would be changing it some day. Things change, new problems always develop, laws are changing, and so I realised that we would have to change this licence some day. And, I also figured that this would apply to many programs written by lots of different people, so I suggested to people: please release your programs saying "GNU GPL version 1 or greater", saying this program may be used under version 1 of the GNU GPL or any later versions, and this way, when version 2 came out, those programs would automatically be usable under version 2 and then since version two, we've been releasing programs saying "this can be used under version 2 or any later version" so that in the future, when GPL version 3 is finalised and is ready for use and officially published, all those programs would be available under version 3 as well, and this way, all these programs will make a smooth transition to GPL version 3.
Ok, it's not surprising that there would be a change someday, but why specifically are we changing it now? And what are the changes?
Well, first of all, there is no one big change. There is no one reason for these changes, each change has it's own little reason. The basic idea is the same: make sure all the users get these four freedoms. All the changes are in details. Many of the changes are clarifications - they're not intended to change the meaning at all, just make it clearer to everybody that the meaning is what it is.
Some changes are meant to make the GPL more independent of variations between countries and their laws for software. Although copyright is pretty much the same thing in all countries, some details vary, so now we know more, and we're in a position to ask more people for advice about what the differences are between particular countries' laws.
We've designed the new language to insulate itself from the changes so that regardless of these changes, the meaning of the GPL is the same.
Well, that's going to be very non-controversial, I'm sure. But there are some changes that really are meant to be substantive changes. There are three main areas for this. One is to do with Tivoisation, another has to do with software patents, and another has to do with compatibility with other Free Software licences.
[section: First main change: malicious DRM part 1, preventing tivoisation]
First: Tivoisation. That's a word I made up. It's named after a product called the TiVo, which is the first example - or at least the first I remember - of a certain specific threat to our freedom. The Tivo contains a GNU+Linux operating system - a fairly small one, but that's what it is. And this means it contains programs released under the GNU GPL, and as far as I know they're not violating the GNU GPL, so I'm presuming that the users can get the source code, that they make it available in one of the appropriate ways. So the users can get the source code, they can edit it, they can compile their modified versoins, they can install them in the Tivo, and then they won't run.
You see, the Tivo is designed so that it won't run your changed versions, it refuses to even start and thus, nominally, Freedom number 1, the freedom to change the source code so that it will do what you want, nominally the users have that freedom but really the user does not have that freedom. You can change the source code so that it would do what you want, but then it won't do anything.
So this is called Tivoisation and this is what we're trying to prevent. But why are we so concerned with this? Well, why would anybody do Tivoisation? What is the motive? The reason is because they're putting malicious features into the code and they don't want the users to fix these deliberate problems. The Tivo has two kinds of nasty features.
One is that it spies on the user - it reports what the user watches. And second, it doesn't allow the user to copy any of the TV programs out of the Tivo. So this is a form of Digital Restrictions Management. Now, they're goal is to restrict the users and deny the users freedom. So, when the users are getting Free Software, the users can really exercise Freedom 1 and change the software so as to get around the restrictions, but that would defeat the whole scheme to restrict you. So, they tivoise the software to stop you effectively changing the software and that way you can't escape from the restrictions. In general, tivoisation is done by someone who wants to impose nasty features, malicious features, on another.
Now, I disagree with those features, I think they're unethical. Well, as long as people continue to have the full, the real enjoyment of Freedom number 1, I don't need to worry about those malicious features because people will take them out, they will fix them, but once the software is tivoised, the users can't fix it.
So GPL version 3 was designed to prohibit tivoisation. It does not prohibit the malicious features of the code. It does not prohibit changing the software to report what the user does. It does not prohibit changing the software so that it refuses to copy things or so that it doesn't have a feature to copy things at all, but it does prohibit stopping the user from making other modifications.
The way it does this is something we had to work on, we had to really think about how to achieve this. It actually doesn't do this by prohibiting any mode of distribution. They can design the hardware to that it requires the binaries to be signed by a certain signature key in order to run, but they must give you the signature key so that you can sign your modified binaries. They must give you whatever it takes to authorise your version so that it will run. So, that is the main anti-Digital-Restrictions-Management provision of GPL version three and it actually doesn't talk about Digital Restrictions Management, it just prohibits tivoisation, so yes, you I can put Digital Restrictions Management in the software and provide it to you, but you can take out the DRM.
Well, that's not the only thing we do to prevent DRM, there are a few other things. We're actually preventing DRM from being imposed on you such that you can't actually change the software to take it out.
[section: Malicious DRM part 2, grant of permission to access generated data]
One is, when a GPL covered program is used to produce encrypted data, then, the GPL says that they have given you permission to write your own software to read that data because some countries have a very nasty law - of course, you can guess which country was the first - a law that actually prohibits software that enables people to bypass the restrictions of DRM. If somebody had released a work that is designed for digital restrictions, and somebody else releases a program that can access the work without restrictions, that second program is illegal - in my country, and in Europe, and about fifty countries who've signed a treaty whose sole purpose is to restrict their own citizens.
So, GPL says if the first program, the one that makes these works restricted with DRM is GPL-covered, then that gives everybody permission to release other GPL-covered programs to read the same works. In other words, they cannot take advantage of those laws to forbid the other programs.
Once again, we're not prohibiting people from changing the software to do DRM, it's only stopping them from prohibiting other from releasing software they want to use and making the software they want to make.
Also, if the GPL'd program produces output for DRM or communicates through a protocol which imposes Digital Restrictions Management, they must give you the necessary codes to write the other side, an authorised server. So, essentially we've tried to cover all the bases. Any way that they can try to use a GPL covered program in such that way that block you or forbid you to change it or write the other software that works with it, that's not allowed. They have to respect your right to change the software and write other interoperable software.
So, that's how we deal with DRM. Mostly by not dealing with it at all, we just guarantee your freedom so that the people whose goal it is to take away your freedom cannot succeed.
[section: Second main change: software patents part 1, explicit patent grant]
The next major area is that of software patents. Now, we took care of the most direct issue in version two with the "Liberty or Death" clause. What we've done with version three is a few secondary things.
First of all, in GPL version two we rely on an implicit patent licence. The issue is: what if the company who distributed the GPL covered program has a patent that applies to something in the program? and what if they say "We'll distribute this to you under the GPL but if you try to use the rights that the GPL gives you, we'll sue you for patent infringement"?
In the US they can't. In the US, by distributing the program to you under the GPL they're saying they have no objectins if you carry out your rights under the GPL, so if they then try to sue you for doing so, they will lose. However, this isn't necessarily true in other countries. Some other Free Software licences in the past several years have had explicit patent licence grants and we decided to follow them. We're putting in an explicit patent license grant which says, more or less, what US law would do implicitly.
But then there's another peculiar case. What if someone distributes the software to you under the GPL and he has a patent licence saying that nobody is going to sue him, that the patent holder will not sue him when he distributes the software, but you, when you distribute the software might be sued by the same patent holder. In fact we could imagine that the patent holder is going around threatening everybody all the time.
That would be a bad thing because it would mean that the freedoms might not be really there. This one distributor gets to enjoy the freedoms and he's supposed to respect your freedom but he could be taking advantage of the fact that the patent holder will sue you if you try. So it's sort of a collusion between these two companies to make your freedom a sham. So GPL version three says that if he is knowingly relying on a patent licence for his own right to distribute this, without getting sued for patent infringement, he must make sure that you are protected too. He has to negotiate his license so that it includes everything that's implied by his releasing of his version which includes your changing the program and your releasing and so on.
However, there's a subtlety here. The big companies have made blanket cross-licences. IBM and Microsoft surely have a blanket patent cross licence for all the patents they have and will ever have, and IBM doesn't even know what the Microsoft patents cover and IBM has one of these with every other big company that's involved closely with computers or software.
So IBM has patent licences for loads of things that they don't know. So the result is that they could have a patent license that makes them safe and they don't know it. So, we said that it's not fair to put them in a worse position than you would be in just because they have a blanket cross-licence and somebody else is explicitly negotiating a licence, so we said, alright, it will only apply if you knowingly rely on a patent licence. So if IBM has a patent licence as part of a blanket cross-licence and doesn't know, then this doesn't apply to them, but if they find out that this problem is happening and they have a patent licence, then they have to do something. IBM doesn't seem to like this very much.
[section: Software patents part 2, narrow retaliation]
Anyway. There is one little bit more about dealing with software patents. We're concerned about the case where somebody modifies a GPL covered program and has a patent covering the modifications and never releases [the program]. If he releases it, he will be giving the patent licence grant to all the users. So there'll be no problem, so what if he never releases the program, he just runs it on his webserver?
Then he's not giving the patent licence grant to anybody. So he might say "I modified this GPL covered program to do this job, and if you write your own program to do this job, you write your own code to do this job, I'll sue you for patent infringement". So, you may say that at that point, he loses his rights to make more copies and to modify the program and so on. So basically, for business purposes, his uses will be untenable. And this way, we protect against that threat.
Now, there are many other Free Software licences that have some other software patent retaliation clause. Some of them are designed to retaliate only against aggression. Some of them, in licences that were written for one company, sometimes retaliated for any suits against that company. That's not a good thing. Suppose, for instance, that Company A releases a program that says the licence terminates if you sue Company A for patent infringement. Well that might seem reasonable since suing anyone for software patent infringement is a bad thing, but suppose Company A has a lot of patents and it goes around suing others, so suppose Company A sues Company B for patent infringement. What Company B wants to do then is to sue Company A is the aggressor and Company B is retaliating, so when B retaliates, B loses her right to use that program because the program licence says if you sue Company A you lose the right to use this program. So what this means is that it is retaliating for retaliation, so it's actually supporting aggression by Company A.
Anyway, we looked at these various kinds of software patent retaliation clauses and we decided that we didn't want to put any of them in the GNU GPL, except the one that I described for you five minutes ago. The very limited one in the case where somebody makes patented changes and doesn't release them. But, there is a way that other patent retaliation clauses can get into programs covered by GNU GPL version three and this brings us to the third main area of changes which is increased compatibility with other licences.
[section: Third main change: licence compatibility]
First of all: what does compatibility mean?
Suppose we have two or three programs and each one has its own licence and you would like to merge them or link them together. Can you do that? Well, each of these licences might make a condition about the licence of the combination. So, the question is: is there anyway you can satisfy both of these licences at once? If there is, then the licences are compatible, you can make a combination because there is a way to licence the combination that satisfies both of these licences.
But if there's no way to licence the combination so as to satisfy both of these requirements together, the combination can't be released. That means the licences are incompatible.
Now, licence incompatibility is a fact of life. There have always been incompatible Free Software licences. I'd say the most glaring kind of incompatibility concerns the licence of TeX, which is incompatible with itself.
If you have two programs that are released under the licence of Tex, you can't merge them at all. The reason is that the licence of Tex says that the only way you can distribute a changed version is by distributing the original version plus a change file - a patch file.
So think about it, you have these two programs both released that way and you want to merge them. How will you distribute the merged version. How will you distribute the merged version? Well, this program says you have to distribute this program plus the change file, but this [other] program says it has to be this particular program plus a change file. It can't be both at once, so the licence of TeX is incompatible with itself.
The GNU GPL is a copyleft licence. The idea of copyleft is, the licence says when you release a modified version it has to be under this exact same licence. The result is that, generally, two different copyleft licences are incompatible. Each one says the modified version has to be under this license, the other one says, no, the modified version has to be under this licence. If the two licences are different, the modified version can't be under both at once. If it's under this one, it's not under [the other] one.
So, two different copyleft licences, generally, are incompatible. But in GPL version three we tried a technique that we thought of to make GPL version three compatible with more licences. Now, GPL version three is compatible with some licences. Namely, simple permissive licences. Things like the X11 licence, the revised BSD licence, and several other important Free Software licences are simple, permissive Free Software licences.
Now, the reason they're compatible with GPL is because they don't make any requirement which is inconsistent with the GPL. You can take the GPL and put it on top of those licences and those licences don't object, because they're very permissive.
And there's another class of licences which are compatible with GPL version two, these are the disjunctive dual licences. The typical example is the licence of PERL. It says "you can use this under the GNU GPL or the Artistic licence". This is a disjunction between two licences. A or B. And because the GNU GPL is one option, the licence of PERL is compatible with the GNU GPL.
So, some other Free Software licences are compatible with the GPL version two. There are many that are not because they have other requirements that are not in the GPL and since the GPL version two does not allow adding any requirements whatsoever, any licence that contains any other requirement that is not in GNU GPL version two is incompatible with GNU GPL version two.
So, what we have done in the draft of GPL version three is we have said there is specific list of certain kinds of requirements that you can add. And these include some rather trivial requirements that we think you could add anyway, like saying "my licence must be preserved", "my copyright notice must be preserved", that does no harm. And terms like, "you have indicate somehow that it's a modified version". GPL has always required you indicated modified versions but it does so in one particular way. But you could add code with a different requirement for noting modifications and GPL version three says it's compatible. It accepts that.
And, another particular kind of requirement is patent retaliation clauses. Within a certain range, those that are not subject to abuse, we had to work very carefully to design a description of those patent retaliation requirements that do not support aggression, and those are the ones we permit.
And finally, we permit the "Affero" requirement. The Affero requirement is found in the Affero General Public Licence, the Affero GPL. The Affero GPL is like GNU GPL version two but it has one other requirement, and that is, if you put the program on a publicly accessible website, you have to release the source code of your version.
This is a requirement about public use of a program. So, that's one kind of requirement that can be added. It's not in GPL version three itself but it can be added.
[section: How the addable requirements are limited]
Let me make something clear. You can't just take existing GPL version three code and add additional requirements. What you can do is write your own code with these requirements placed by you on your own code, or merge in somebody else's code which has these requirements placed by him on his code, and when it's merged in, these requirements remain only on the code that they were applied to. So they don't actually spread to the rest of the program. If you're using the whole program, of course it includes that part, so you have to follow the requirements for that part. But they stay on that part, so if you delete that part
[From here onward, battery and memory limitations prevent the recording from being complete]
Q1: Is GPLv3 useful for documentation and/or compatible with the GNU Free Documentation Licence?
Richard Stallman: The two licences are incompatible, but they're just wholly incompatible. They're two very different copyleft licences and two different copyleft licences are always going to be incompatible. The GNU GPL has requirements that are extremely inconvenient for anyone who wants to publish printed books such as manuals. So, it's not a good idea to use the GNU GPL for a manual. So, I developed a different licence for manuals, a licence which I developed specifically with the idea of encouraging commercial companies to use it for their manuals. I put in certain features that I hoped would make it easier to make a profit selling these copylefted manuals and another special feature which is supposed to make it more comfortable to release a standards document under this licence.
There's a special kind of section called the "endorsements" section which can say "This is the official Foobar standard" and anyone who makes a modified version of the document has to delete that section, so it will not say that this is an official version of the standard.
And you can put that together with an invariant section saying "if you don't see a section saying this is the official version of the standard, then it is not". And so, if your goal is to make sure everyone knows whether your book contains the official version of the standard, this will do it. Now it's sad that most standards organisations real goal in publishing their standards is to make money from them, so they refuse to cooperate at all, but we want it to be possible for them to cooperate so that when we pressure them to cooperate, we need to make it practical for them to cooperate, and the GNU Free Documentation Licence does.
So these things are incompatible with the GPL.
Q2: It seems the Affero clause is clearly designed to protect people who use software through their browser...
Richard Stallman: No that's not true, but continue. That was not our intention. I'll explain but we'll take a look at your question and then I'll explain.
Q2b: Ok, my question which may be based on false premises, is: why was the decision made to keep the Affero clause as an option?
Richard Stallman: We don't want make that kind of change in the licence of all the existing GPL covered programs. Some people don't want that. We were considering putting this feature in the GPL but we decided it would only be active if the program did something to activate it. And then I realised that if you want to consider ways to activate it, this way is just as good as any.
Anyway, this is not really a matter of protecting a user who does things through a browser. It's not about that actually, it's about Person A writes a GPL covered program for use on websites, and releases it, and Someone B makes improvements and runs them on his website and doesn't release them and sees no reason to ever release them because he instead he just sells the right to use it through his website. Then, developer A finds that he's working at a disadvantage. Every time he makes changes, B can get them, but every time B makes changes, A cannot get them. So, this way, if A releases under the Affero GPL then B has to publish his changes because he's providing public access use.
So that gets rid of the problem.
Now, the issue you brought up is a real issue, but it's a different kind of issue. You see, we try to make sure that you have freedom to change and redistribute and run the program as you wish, but that has to be your copy. Obviously we don't want to give you the freedom to change someone else's copy because he's the one that's supposed to have control over his copy, so to have these freedoms you've got to have your own copy. In fact, this is not just a matter of what the GPL says, it's a fact of life, it can't be avoided. If you don't have your own copy of the program, you don't have control. Someone else can hold your copy for you, you might use a timesharing service, and
[The recording is interrupted again]
Q3: [Unrecorded, but the question was about cooperation with Open Source Initiative]
The Free Software movement, which I founded in 1983 focuses on freedom and community, on human rights for software users. "Open source" was founded in 1998 as a way to stop talking about those things. To hush them up, to bury them, put them out of people's sight. So they talk about practical advantages that come from using the software. Well, I also talk about practical advantages in my speeches. So here's what I say [Stallman outlines a large circle with his hands], and here's what they say [Stallman outlines a smaller circle within the first circle] - except that they go into more depth on it, and that is useful, y'know. Making the case to businesses that they will get some practical advantage out of releasing their software under, usually, a Free Software licence, that's useful, but the point is it's still a more superficial part of the issue.
So they still say they want to cooperate, and they wish we would cooperate by forgetting what we consider the most important thing and joining them in saying only the superficial part. This is the way Eric Raymond puts it, he's very clever at asking us to abandon the most important thing and making it sound like he's only being reasonable.
Q4: [inaudible but he mentions "the creative common licence"]
Richard Stallman: There is none.
Q4b: There isn't?
Richard Stallman: There is no such thing as "the Creative Commons licence".
Q4c: Not for software
Richard Stallman: There is no such thing.
And the reason I'm responding in this way is that this error is extremely common
[The recording is interrupted again, Stallman goes on to explain that there are many Creative Commons licences, and some are free and some are not free, so the "Creative Commons" label does not indicate anything meaningful in relation to freedom.]
Q5, by Michael Tiemann, President of Open Source Initiative: About a question you were asked earlier about Eric Raymond, I want to point out a fact which is that while Eric Raymond was formerly the president of OSI, he no longer is.
Eric, does speak for himself, but less and less for the OSI. I would also like to clarify that as president of OSI, I have always supported the GPL as the model licence for developers. The licence is the only licence I have released work under aside from the LGPL for my own programming.
I recognise your position, which is to say that if I am not talking about freedom, first and foremost, then I am burying it, but I think of it myself differently...
Richard Stallman: Well, you might be doing something in between. There are things in between. When Eric Raymond was president of OSI, I could perceive his intention to bury talk of freedom very clearly. And there are others who talk about "open source" who clearly are trying to bury software freedom. That doesn't imply that everyone who uses the term... what is true about their use of the term is that it generally doesn't call attention to freedom very much.
Q5b, Michael Tiemann: Well, at this conference I do want to support that what you are doing is incredibly valuable and I respect that, and thanks.
Richard Stallman: Thank you.
Q6: [barely audible, the question is about making official translations of the GPL, and the audience member advocates FSF making official translations because otherwise the courts will have to make their own translations which may be done with less care.]
Richard Stallman: The danger with an official translation is, if we make a mistake, it could be an absolute disaster.
... and we can't read Portuguese. I can't and Eben Moglen can't. And even if we could, that doesn't mean that either of us would understand it as a lawyer. You see, if I work with him when writing GPL version three in English and I can say "well, here's what I think I want" ask him to tell me if it really does what I think it does.
Working like that in foreign languages would be much harder, so producing a translation of the GPL in any other language would be much harder than what we've already done and I can't trust this. I don't know who I can trust this to do. I know lawyers in various country who strongly support the Free Software movement, but to entrust this to them is a so much... especially when a mistake can destroy things world wide.
Now, I considered the idea that maybe we'd have translations that would be limited to one country. At least that puts certain amount of bounds on the amount of disaster that a mistake would cause.
Another thing I imagined - I just had this idea today - I don't know whether it's a good idea, we could make translations and say "this translation is only valid for one year unless it's renewed or replaced by another more accurate translation". We can't do that with the GPL itself. If we could change the GPL and force people to switch to a new version of the GPL, we could take away their freedoms, but the English version of the GPL does not work that way. Once you get a program under version X of the GPL, you can always use it under version X of the GPL forever. So, as long as that remains true, maybe it's ok if the translations can be revised, so that if there is a bad mistake in a translation, maybe we can fix it. I don't know if this is really acceptable. I have this argument which I can argue that it's acceptable because the real English version will not be revokable, but I'm not convinced this argument is strong enough. I'll have to talk to people about it.
Q6b: That's easy for you because you live in an English speaking country, but in Brazil where there is a different language
Richard Stallman: I agree with you but that's not the point. The reasons why it would be good to have translations are obvious. The point is: can we get rid of the danger?
So this idea that I had today might be an acceptable way to get rid of the danger, and if so, we'll have translations.
Richard Stallman: ...and if some program in the set allows Tivoisation, then they can Tivoise, so if enough important programs move to GPL version three, Tivoisation will be practically speaking not feasible.
Of course, this depends on these programs moving to GPL version three.
Richard Stallman: Ah, no, but the point is that those things will be rather old, and at some point it's just not useful to use them anymore. They're not a reasonable option because the code has been released so long
[The recording gives up]