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Affero General Public License V3 Released

The Free Software Foundation (FSF) recently published GNU Affero General Public License version 3 (AGPLv3), a derivative of GPL version 3. Unlike the standard GPL, Affero has an additional clause that allows users who interact with AGPLv3-licensed software over a network to receive the source code for that program.

AGPLv3 is meant to address a flaw in the original GPL that may result in the source code of a modified GPL program never being made generally available if it is only meant to be used over a network instead of being run locally on users' machines.

For instance, a programmer might modify a GPL program and deploy the modified version on a server. Since use of the server does not guarantee access to the source code (unless the programmer takes steps to make it available), the modified source code may never be released. For this reason, the FSF recommends that developers of network-oriented projects use AGPLv3 instead of the standard GPLv3.

Code from the GPL may be mixed with AGPL code. In addition, the AGPL doesn't specifically require network usage, so AGPL code may be used in standard GPLv3 projects as well. This flexibility gives programmers access to a much larger code base for use in projects without having to rebuild everything from scratch.

The new license arose in response to community demands, according to FSF Board Member Benjamin Mako Hill.

"The feedback we received while working on the original GPLv3 demonstrated a clear desire for this sort of license....We're happy that the GNU AGPL meets those needs," he stated in an FSF announcement.

The FSF has been a proponent of software licensing freedom, as demonstrated with the creation of GPLv3, which includes language concerning open source and proprietary source cross-licensing agreements. Many corporations have been happy to utilize GPLv2 software in their products, but GPLv3 has been given a wide berth. GPLv3 specifically addressed events such as the Microsoft-Novell patent licensing deal of 2006, as well as "tivoization."

Tivoization is a situation where GPL-licensed software is used to create a product, but the hardware is used to stave off derivatives of the software. The word "tivoization" was coined for Tivo, the manufacturer of a popular digital video recorder system that utilizes the Linux kernel and other GNU software.

Tivo had released its digital video recorder software's source code in compliance with the GPLv2. However, the Tivo hardware would not run any user-modified versions of the Tivo source code. The GPLv3 was specifically drafted to keep similar events from happening again. In this way, the AGPL is another method of keeping open source software open by protecting the user's freedom to examine the source code of network-deployed software.

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Will Kraft is a Web designer, technical consultant and freelance writer. He can be reached at will@willkraftblog.com. Also, check out his blog at http://www.willkraftblog.com.

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