The GPLv3 in Plain English – The Parts Microsoft Worries About

Awhile back I read the small print about Microsoft’s Moonlight software distribution. It specifically mentions the stuff they don’t like about the GPLv3. Interesting. Let’s see what they are worried about.

“Any other license or contract that includes terms similar to the terms in paragraphs 6 or 7 of Section 11 of the GNU General Public License version 3.

How bad could it be? Now, I’m not a lawyer. But when I read the sections they don’t like … it’s littered with phrases like “propagate by procuring conveyance” which sounds something like this in my head: “blabbity unicorns blah and cucumbers might take blah over dick tracy the world hurmph.” What exactly does Paragraphs 6 or 7 of Section 11 of the GPLv3 say? Here’s the block of unreadable text in its’ entirety:

If, pursuant to or in connection with a single transaction or arrangement, you convey, or propagate by procuring conveyance of, a covered work, and grant a patent license to some of the parties receiving the covered work authorizing them to use, propagate, modify or convey a specific copy of the covered work, then the patent license you grant is automatically extended to all recipients of the covered work and works based on it.

A patent license is “discriminatory” if it does not include within the scope of its coverage, prohibits the exercise of, or is conditioned on the non-exercise of one or more of the rights that are specifically granted under this License. You may not convey a covered work if you are a party to an arrangement with a third party that is in the business of distributing software, under which you make payment to the third party based on the extent of your activity of conveying the work, and under which the third party grants, to any of the parties who would receive the covered work from you, a discriminatory patent license (a) in connection with copies of the covered work conveyed by you (or copies made from those copies), or (b) primarily for and in connection with specific products or compilations that contain the covered work, unless you entered into that arrangement, or that patent license was granted, prior to 28 March 2007.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot Batman! What the fsck does that say? Here’s my plain English translation:

If you (or one of your partners) provide software licensed under GPLv3, and agree not to sue anyone — the agreement not to sue (and the use of patents that are in the software) will apply to all future recipients of that software.

Any patent agreement which attempts to nullify any rights given to you or others in the GPLv3 is invalid. This includes paying a partner distribute the software for you and agreeing not to sue them.

Did the meaning change significantly? I’d say not very much. Is the spirit intact? I strongly believe so. If you violate any part of my “plain english” version, you almost certainly violate the original document. Someone is bound to argue that I’m simplifying this too much — you’re absolutely right. This is the point.