Jottings from the GPLv3 conference at Bangalore

I spent the 23rd and 24th of August 2006 at IIM-B attending the 4th International Conference on GPLv3. No thanks to the traffic on Banerghatta Road I missed parts of initial speech of RMS but was on time for the QA in which Eben Moglen was also an active participant. The audience was sprightly and of course we had Danese Cooper who promptly began knitting while sitting through the QA. Interesting bits and bobs came up in the session which was otherwise sluggish and marred by the repeated number of times the person asking the question “spoke into the microphone” while not pronouncing the consonants properly (, check Kalyan’s post). For example, question on the “Tivo-isation” which caught on since Tivo as a device is something that is a bit unknown in India. The sad bit about this session was that not many in the audience had an idea about GPL (either as v2 or as v3) and thus a whole lot of questions were actually contextually same with only semantic differences cropping up here and there alongside the old tale of “linking”. Although it also led to a number of question on GPL violations and Harald (who was there in the audience along with Atul) was pointed out as among the few who are taking active interest in this area.

Post lunch on Day 1 was “the” session for which I had landed up – the talk by Eben Moglen. I have earlier heard Eben speak but have never actually “seen” him speak. Now that I have been there and done that, I would say that it is a real treat to watch him have a restless audience spellbound. Starting off on the note that a Global Copyright License is something that is not an everyday task (like a walk in the park perhaps…) since normally Copyright is done on a per-nation basis, he delved into the concept of how Free Software and more importantly Freedom moves across boundaries. The GPLv2 was primarily written for audiences in the United States and thus the wording reflects a phenomenon that is more US centric. Resolving this crisis is not as easy as translation/transliteration of the license since that would lead to a large base of interpretations. The wording of the draft of GPLv3 is thus “independent of nation states”. While GPL is a licenses for individual programmers/developers it has to be relevant on a trans-national scale. But this leads to some additional issues like the fact that stuff like “Warranty Disclaimers” cannot be transnationalised. This is because the wording for Copyright is based on the statements of the local copyright law as given forward by a local lawyer and is relevant in the context of the facts of the program. Thus, the way forward is an agreement by the various stakeholders on the elements of the policy. The idea is not wrecking the existing business practices but at the same time not modifying or crippling the license. An upward swing in the proliferation of licenses leads to an increase in cost of acquiring sofrware. Copyleft actually provides an away towards innovation. This led on to a discussion on patents as the single largest nuisance in the current times. Patent laws are challenging since a whole mesh of cross licensing ensures that innovation is stifled. The big ticket players in the field indulge in Mutually Assured Destruction by ensuring they have enough patents in their chest to ward off any threat by the other big players. To which he added that 15 years ago Stallman had predicted this state of affairs and “Stallman was right then” while no one listened to him and “Stallman is right now” when everybody can see where this is leading to. Gandhi said that “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you and then you win”, Eben made a statement of fact that for 15 years the FSF has taken on the largest and most well funded players in the software economy and survived to tell the tale and he believes that this time “we will win”

Day 2 had a panel discussion which I wanted to attend and listen to primarily for the participants rather than expecting anything radically innovative to come out. Raj Mathur turned up late (err… make it late enough to make an entrance) while Abhas, Sunil, Dinesh and Kalyan held the fort. Raj (when he finally turned up was his I-take-no-bullshit frame of mind) presented on his take on how to make money out of Free Software (money always gets a crowd going). The lame questions of the session: Should there be a standard in fees charged for FOSS based solutions (come on dude – you charge what you can and pay what you think is best) and Should someone take an attempt on doing a Tally-like accounting project (feel free to hook up on or even get Kalculate to release its code). The DRM panel I had no plans to sit and listen to since somehow or the other I figured that not much was going to be discussed out there. So did the next best thing and went outside for some back-channel work with a few friends from FSF-I. Interesting things were discussed, the fruits of which I might be able to blog a bit later in the coming month. Onward onto the FOSS in education panel we went. The one thing that was the major irritant was folks who wanted to talk about what they are doing (and thus earning a smattering of applause) and folks who just dozed off (seriously, there has to be some item in the lunch that will keep you awake rather than get you snoring noticeably loudly). The Education panel did not have a student in it as mentions so she got on stage and did what can best be termed as coining the most mis-used mantra in the whole conference – “to fell a tree one must strike at the root”. I am just waiting for that phrase to sprout across a large number of mailing lists and other conferences. I did my by now usual round of questions on the syllabus

The good side – excellent arrangements and you could actually get the speakers to talk to you separately. The bad side – not many new faces and not many young faces either. Much work lies ahead

has put up the photographs