Post Syndicated from Bradley M. Kuhn original http://ebb.org/bkuhn/blog/2007/11/21/stet-and-agplv3.html
Many people don’t realize that the GPLv3 process actually began long
before the November 2005 announcement. For me and a few others, the GPLv3
process started much earlier. Also, in my view, it didn’t actually end
until this week, the FSF released the AGPLv3. Today, I’m particularly
proud that stet was the first software released covered by the terms of
The GPLv3 process focused on the idea of community, and a community is
built from bringing together many individual experiences. I am grateful
for all my personal experiences throughout this process. Indeed, I
would guess that other GPL fans like myself remember, as I do, the first
time the heard the phrase “GPLv3”. For me, it was a bit
early — on Tuesday 8 January 2002 in a conference room at MIT. On
that day, Richard Stallman, Eben Moglen and I sat down to have an
all-day meeting that included discussions regarding updating GPL. A key
issue that we sought to address was (in those days) called the
“Application Service Provider (ASP) problem” — now
called “Software as a Service (SaaS)”.
A few days later, on the telephone with Moglen2 one morning, as I stood in my
kitchen making oatmeal, we discussed this problem. I pointed out the
oft-forgotten section 2(c) of the GPL [version 2]. I argued that contrary
to popular belief, it does have restrictions on some minor
modifications. Namely, you have to maintain those print statements for
copyright and warranty disclaimer information. It’s reasonable, in other
words, to restrict some minor modifications to defend freedom.
We also talked about that old Computer Science problem of having a
program print its own source code. I proposed that maybe we needed a
section 2(d) that required that if a program prints its own source to
the user, that you can’t remove that feature, and that the feature must
always print the complete and corresponding source.
Within two months, Affero
GPLv1 was published — an authorized fork of the GPL to test
the idea. From then until AGPLv3, that “Affero clause”
has had many changes, iterations and improvements, and I’m grateful
for all the excellent feedback, input and improvements that have gone
into it. The
Affero GPLv3 (AGPLv3) released on Monday, is an excellent step
forward for software freedom licensing. While the community process
indicated that the preference was for the Affero clause to be part of
a separate license, I’m nevertheless elated that the clause continues
to live on and be part of the licensing infrastructure defending
Other than coining the Affero clause, my other notable personal
contribution to the GPLv3 was management of a software development
project to create the online public commenting system. To do the
programming, we contracted with Orion Montoya, who has extensive
experience doing semantic markup of source texts from an academic
perspective. Orion gave me my first introduction to the whole
“Web 2.0” thing, and I was amazed how useful the result was;
it helped the leaders of the process easily grok the public response.
For example, the intensity highlighting — which shows the hot
spots in the text that received the most comments — gives a very
quick picture of sections that are really of concern to the public. In
reviewing the drafts today, I was reminded that the big red area in
section 1 about “encryption and authorization codes” is
changed and less intensely highlighted by draft 4. That quick-look
gives a clear picture of how the community process operated to get a
better license for everyone.
Orion, a Classics scholar as an undergrad, named the
software stet for its original Latin definition: “let it
stand as it is”. It was his hope that stet (the software) would
help along the GPLv3 process so that our whole community, after filing
comments on each successive draft, could look at the final draft and
simply say: Stet!
Stet has a special place in software history, I believe, even if it’s
just a purely geeky one. It is the first software system in history to
be meta-licensed. Namely, it was software whose output was its own
license. It’s with that exciting hacker concept that I put up today
a Trac instance
for stet, licensed under the terms of the AGPLv3 [ which is now on
Gitorious ] 1.
Stet is by no means ready for drop-in production. Like most software
projects, we didn’t estimate perfectly how much work would be needed.
We got lazy about organization early on, which means it still requires a
by-hand install, and new texts must be carefully marked up by hand.
We’ve moved on to other projects, but hopefully SFLC will host the Trac
instance indefinitely so that other developers can make it better.
That’s what copylefted FOSS is all about — even when it’s
under AGPLv3 plus an exception to allow for combining with the
GPLv2-only Request Tracker, with which parts of stet combine.
2016-01-06:After writing this blog post, I found
evidence in my email archives from early 2002, wherein Henry Poole (who
originally suggested the need for Affero GPL to FSF), began cc’ing me anew
on an existing thread. In that thread, Poole quoted text from Moglen
proposing the original AGPLv1 idea to Poole. Moglen’s quoted text in
Poole’s email proposed the idea as if it were solely Moglen’s own. Based
on the timeline of the emails I have, Moglen seems to have written to Poole
within 36-48 hours of my original formulation of the idea.
While I do not accuse Moglen of plagiarism, I believe he does at least
misremember my idea as his own, which is particularly surprising, as Moglen
(at that time, in 2002) seemed unfamiliar with the Computer Science concept
of a quine; I had to explain that concept as part of my presentation of my
idea. Furthermore, Moglen and I discussed this matter in a personal
conversation in 2007 (around the time I made this blog post originally) and
Moglen said to me: “you certainly should take credit for the Affero
GPL”. Thus, I thought the matter was thus fully settled back in
2007, and thus Moglen’s post-2007 claims of credit that write me out of
Affero GPL’s history are simply baffling. To clear up the confusion his
ongoing claims create, I added this footnote to communicate unequivocally
that my memory of that phone call is solid, because it was the first time I
ever came up with a particularly interesting licensing idea, so the memory
became extremely precious to me immediately. I am therefore completely
sure I was the first to propose the original idea of mandating preservation
of a quine-like feature in AGPLv1§2(d) (as a fork/expansion of
GPLv2§2(c)) on the telephone to Moglen, as described above. Moglen
has never produced evidence to dispute my recollection, and even agreed
with the events as I told them back in 2007.
Nevertheless, unlike Moglen, I do admit that creation of the final text of
AGPLv1 was a collaborative process, which included contributions from
Moglen, Poole, RMS, and a lawyer (whose name I don’t recall) whom Poole
hired. AGPLv3§13’s drafting was similarly collaborative, and included
input from Richard Fontana, David Turner, and Brett Smith, too.
Finally, I note my surprise at this outcome. In my primary community
— the Free Software community — people are generally extremely
good at giving proper credit. Unlike the Free Software community, legal
communities apparently are cutthroat on the credit issue, so I’ve