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General Public License (GPL)

General Public License (GPL)

The GNU General Public License (GNU GPL or simply GPL) is a widely used free software license, originally written by Richard Stallman for the GNU project. The latest version of the license, version 2, was released in 1991. The GNU Lesser General Public Licensesoftware libraries. (LGPL) is a modified version of the GPL, intended for some


The GPL was written by Richard Stallman for use with programs released as part of the GNU project. It was based on a unification of similar licenses used for early versions of GNU Emacs, the GNU Debugger and the GNU Compiler Collection. These licenses contained similar provisions to the modern GPL, but were specific to each program rendering them incompatible, despite being the same licence.[1] Stallman’s goal was to produce one license that could be used for any project, thus making it possible for many projects to share code. This became the GPL version 1, released in January 1989.


By 1990, it was becoming apparent that a less restrictive license would be strategically useful for some software libraries; when version 2 of the GPL was released in June 1991, therefore, a second license – the Library General Public License, or LGPL – was introduced alongside it, and was also numbered version 2 to show that the two were complementary. The version numbers diverged in 1999 when version 2.1 of the LGPL was released, which renamed it the Lesser General Public License to reflect its place in the GNU philosophy.

According to Richard Stallman, the most major change in GPLv2 was the “Liberty or Death” clause, as he calls it – Section 7. This section says that if someone has restrictions imposed that prevent them from distributing GPL-covered software in a way that respects other users’ freedom (for example, if a legal ruling states that they can only distribute the software in binary form), they cannot distribute it at all.


As of 2006, version 3 of the GPL is being written by Richard Stallman, with legal counsel from Eben Moglen and Software Freedom Law Center.

On February 25, 2006, he said:

Among the changes, the most important four, I will say, concern dealing with software patents, compatibility with other licences, the definition of which parts of the source code and what constitutes the source code that must be included in it, and dealing with Digital Restrictions Management.

Some important changes:

  • Clauses against patents
  • Compatibility with different licences
  • Clauses against DRM
  • Clauses against “tivoization”
  • Additional restrictions

In January 2006, the Free Software Foundation began a 12-month public consultation about the possible changes to the GPL. This process is being coordinated by the Free Software Foundation, Software Freedom Law Center, and Free Software Foundation Europe.

A first draft of the GPLv3 was made available on January 16, 2006. Unofficial diffs between version 2 and the v3 draft 1 are also available.

On 27 July 2006, a second discussion draft of GPLv3 was released, along with a first discussion draft of a version 3 of the LGPL.

Richard Stallman expects GPLv3 to be finalised either in October 2006 or early 2007.

For more information on GPL, visit: GPL-wiki


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