Red Hat’s open source movement gains momentum; adds more vendors for greater predictability in open source licensing

Red Hat Inc. announced on Monday that Amazon, Arm, Canonical, GitLab, Intel Corporation, Liferay, Linaro, MariaDB, NEC, Pivotal, Royal Philips, SAS, Toyota and VMware have joined the roster of community in rejecting harsh tactics in the enforcement of open source licenses by adopting the GPL Cooperation Commitment. These commitments reflect the belief that responsible compliance in open source licensing is important and that license enforcement in the open source ecosystem operates by different norms.

These 14 companies join other companies who previously made the commitment: Red Hat, Facebook, Google, and IBM made the initial commitment in November 2017 and were joined in March 2018 by CA Technologies, Cisco, HPE, Microsoft, SAP, and SUSE.

This announcement demonstrates the expanded breadth and depth of support for the GPL Cooperation Commitment. Companies adopting the commitment now span geographic regions, include eight Fortune 100 companies, and represent a wide range of industries from enterprise software and hardware to consumer electronics, chip manufacturing to cloud computing, and social networking to automotive. The companies making the commitment represent more than 39 percent of corporate contributions to the Linux kernel, including six of the top 10 corporate contributors.

The companies, projects and developers participating in the GPL Cooperation Commitment have extended these rights because they believed it was right for the community and the open source ecosystems in which they participate and encourage other companies and developers to join them.

Following the lead of the open source development community, the move reflects the growing strength of the norms in the open source community about the importance of responsible license compliance and supports the belief that individual trolling for personal or corporate gain is not appropriate in the open source ecosystem.

This announcement brings the total number of companies who have adopted this approach to 24. The list of companies comes from across industries and geographies, all of whom have agreed to apply the principle of fairness in license enforcement. For those who review and negotiate commercial contracts on a regular basis, the idea of a reasonable notice and opportunity to fix problems may seem obvious but this wasn’t always the case for the GPL.

Version 2 of the GPL and LGPL do not contain express “cure” periods to fix problems before the licenses are terminated. In an earlier era, the Free Software Foundation(FSF) owned the copyrights for nearly all GPL-licensed code and was the only copyright holder regularly engaged in license enforcement.

At that time, the idea of automatic termination in the hands of a benevolent license steward may have seemed appropriate to encourage and enforce license compliance. But, over time, there was an increasing volume of GPL and LGPL-licensed software that was distributed by a growing body of copyright holders (i.e., many potential license enforcers). A consensus began to form that automatic termination could result in potential unfairness and opportunities for abusive enforcement.

When the FSF, with the guidance and assistance of the Software Freedom Law Center, released GPLv3 in 2007, one of its new features was the introduction of a cure period for license noncompliance and mechanisms for license reinstatement when compliance errors were promptly fixed.

Following the release of GPLv3, the FSF encouraged existing GPLv2 projects to adopt GPLv3. While many projects did move, there is still a large body of code that continues to be licensed under version 2. Some projects have chosen not to move and others were unable to do so due to license selection upstream or other reasons.

At the same time, the use of open source software has become increasingly ubiquitous across a growing number of industries — it is fast becoming the very foundation of cloud computing. An increasing number of companies in a variety of industries ranging from automobiles to banks to consumer products are now contributing to, distributing and using open source software within their enterprises and product portfolios. The diversity and volume of open source code used in products today have now become so large that it is no longer reasonable to expect that there will be 100 percent compliance all of the time.

The potential for abusive enforcement of the automatic termination provisions of the GPLv2 became concerning to developers and community enforcement organizations who have been coalescing behind the position that heavy-handed approaches to license enforcement are out of place in the community.

This movement to adopt the GPLv3 cure approach for GPLv2 licensed-code originated with community-focused organizations and developers and, as the announcement demonstrates, is now being adopted by companies across industries and geographies. The approach has been adopted by more than 100 Linux kernel developers and by Red Hat-led projects.

In addition, a growing number of individual open source developers are adding their names to the GPL Cooperation Commitment for their own GPLv2 and LGPLv2, and LGPLv2.1 copyrighted code through a repository hosted on GitHub.

“We are pleased to honor open source community traditions by encouraging this collaborative approach to license commitments among our fellow participants in the open source ecosystem,” said Michael Cunningham, executive vice president and general counsel, Red Hat. “We are also grateful to the development community for having provided the intellectual underpinnings of the approach to us and the other companies. Many thanks to the Free Software Foundation, Linux Foundation, Linux Foundation Technical Advisory Board, Software Freedom Conservancy, Software Freedom Law Center and all the others that helped lead the way.”

“Consistent with OIN’s mission to provide freedom of action in Linux, we believe it is important to reinforce the principle that IP enforcement should be conducted in a manner that is rational and in consonance with the collaborative process that occurs in open source software,” said Keith Bergelt, CEO, Open Invention Network. “We encourage all participants in the OIN patent non-aggression community to also make the GPL Cooperation Commitment.”

“Amazon and AWS strongly support open source as a way to speed the rate of innovation for our customers, developers, community, and partners,” said Adrian Cockroft, vice president, Cloud Architecture Strategy, Amazon. “We support changes to open source licensing that furthers the goal of innovation and experimentation on behalf of open source users and contributors.”

“A healthy, thriving open source software community is an essential enabler for innovation across most technology market segments. We have already supported the Linux kernel enforcement statement and we now make a similar cure commitment for GPL and LGPL code,” said Mark Hambleton, vice president of open source software, Arm. “We encourage others to support this movement as we strive for a consistent, fair approach to open source license interpretation and enforcement.”

“At GitLab we’re committed to a 30-day cure period for GPLv2 because we want a world where everyone can contribute without worrying they won’t have a chance to remedy any mistakes they made,” Sid Sijbrandij, co-founder and CEO, GitLab.

“Open source software and communities have always been fundamental to Liferay’s mission of building a vibrant business, making technology useful and investing in communities,” said Jorge Ferrer, vice president of Engineering, Liferay. “We’re proud be part of the pledge to apply GPLv3’s non-compliance cure provisions to GPLv2, LGPLv2 and LGPLv2.1 because we believe it will provide more fairness and predictability for developers using open source software.”

“It is in Linaro’s and the Arm ecosystem’s interests that the open source projects that we are contributing to and testing remain fair, open and collaborative,” said David Rusling, chief technology officer, Linaro. “Linaro fully endorses and supports Red Hat’s cooperation commitment initiative.”

“Open source is the way of the future and we support removing barriers for users to innovate with open source,” said Kaj Arnö, chief evangelist, MariaDB. “That’s why we are proud to adopt this common-sense remedy period for fixing license violations.”

“As a member of open source development communities and also a member of open source foundations, NEC has been making considerable efforts to help expand its ecosystem for more than 15 years,” said Keiichi Seki, senior manager, Open Source Program Office, NEC. “NEC believes this Cooperation Commitment will deepen the collaboration between industry and community. That will cause acceleration of further innovation in the open source ecosystem.”

“Pivotal is happy to join in the diverse group of companies and technology leaders incorporating the 30-day cure period included in GPLv3 into GPLv2 and LGPLv2,” said Ian Andrews, vice president of products, Pivotal. “We strongly believe that this approach to enforcement will further collaboration and participation in open source development, fairness, and the adoption of open source software that underlies everything that we do.”

“Royal Philips values and supports the extension of a cure period for users of GPLv2 licensed software,” said Jako Eleveld, head of IP Licensing, Royal Philips. “Enabling users to correct errors and avoid license termination provides greater legal certainty for implementers. For this reason, and as a proud founder of Open Invention Network, Royal Philips is joining the list of companies making the cure commitment.”

“Open source has become an important part of advancing new technologies that impact how we work and live. But, as with any software, there are risks when it comes to license infringement issues, and it’s important that all parties involved are protected so that they can continue to collaborate and develop new source code,” said John Boswell, chief legal counsel, SAS. “This is why we are supporting Red Hat’s efforts to promote greater predictability in open source license enforcement. Doing so gives the open source community the security needed to be innovative when designing new software.”

“We believe that open source is an essential building block of today’s technology solutions. The GPL is one of the most common open source licenses used and having a predictable and collaborative approach to enforcing that license will help all of us to encourage continued growth in this space,” said Dirk Hohndel, chief open source officer, VMware. “The GPL Cooperation Commitment is a key step to further foster open source software adoption.”


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