But GPLv3 also contains unique—and to most readers, very confusing—patent terms. (See Section 11, paragraphs 5, 6 and 7—the so-called anti-Microsoft and anti-Novell provisions.) Companies worry, for instance, that if someone else sues them for patent infringement based on GPL3 code, these provisions cannot be reconciled to the terms for a settlement, which is usually a non-sublicensable, and sometimes royalty-bearing, patent license.
Other frights lurk in the “anti-Tivoization” terms—more properly referred to as the “User Product” terms, Section 6. These terms require “Installation Information” to be provided to allow customers of hardware devices to re-install and execute modifications of the software that are enabled by the license. These terms mostly cause concern for companies in the consumer electronics field. However, the burgeoning industry of tools for SMEs means that the line of demarcation between consumer and business customers is blurring, and that causes consternation among potential industry adopters. Many worry that delivery of this information will make it hard to manage the security or support of their products, or will enable their competitors to disrupt their business.
Private companies feel—rightly or wrongly—that using open source code involves an investment of brain damage to understand the license. They also assume—rightly—that use of open source requires implementing internal business processes to track use and compliance. These are costs, and savvy companies consider these alongside license fees as part of the total cost of ownership of software. Notwithstanding GPL3’s perceived or real dangers, as with any open source license, its adoption depends on having a “killer app” to make it worthwhile.
For GPLv3, that killer app is clearly GCC. Most companies today cannot function without this compiler package. Moreover, most companies only use GCC as a development tool and not distributed within products, so they have little trouble managing compliance. (This is because the copyleft requirements of GPL v3 only kick in upon “conveying”—a notion akin to distribution, which doesn’t happen in the ordinary course of business for a pure development tool.) So, as we stand in 2013, GPLv3 fear is abating somewhat. Currently, GPL v3 is one of the top open source licenses, applying to 12% of projects. But all projects are not created equal. The bottom line is that licenses don’t drive their own adoption. Software drives license adoption, and the more tasty software released under GPL3, the more private companies will grin and bear it.
So who’s afraid of GPLv3? Most private companies, even today, but less afraid than they used to be.
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