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Question about GPL and DFSG Compatibility of a Proposed Amendment to the W3C Document Licence

The W3C and the HTML WG are currently negotiating a new copyright licence for the HTML specifications, and I would like to get some clarification about whether or not the proposed licence is compatible with the GPL and the Debian Free Software Guidelines.

The proposed licence is Option 3, listed here.

That licence simply extends the W3C document licence with some permitted exceptions to the restrictions it otherwise imposes.


The W3C representatives claim, based on a statement they received by Eben Moglen, that it is compatible with the GPL, but didn't elaborate on, or answer any concerns I've raised.

(W3C Member only link, sorry. It's a forwarded mail from Eben stating that he believes Option 3 to be compatible with GPL v2 and v3.)

My concern is that this licence doesn't adhere to the GPL clause 6, which states:

  "You may not impose any further restrictions on the recipients'
   exercise of the rights granted herein"

Nor to the DFSG's "No Discrimination Against Fields of Endeavor" statement, and I would like some advice about whether my interpretation is correct or not.

The W3C document licence states:

  "No right to create modifications or derivatives of W3C documents is
   granted pursuant to this license."

The option 3 amendment carves out 3 exceptions to that for software, supporting materials accompanying software, and documentation of software. This would seem to imply a field of use restriction against anything that is not covered by those 3 exceptions. In particular, this does not explicitly permit others to fork the specification.

It should be noted that option 1, presented in the same document, explicitly states:

  "HOWEVER, the publication of derivative works of this document for
   use as a technical specification is expressly prohibited."

The W3C's lawyer claims that because Option 3 omits that one statement, there is no explicit field of use restriction and that that is enough for compatibility. Clarification on this issue would be appreciated.


Lachlan Hunt - Opera Software

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