As I know, Linux intentionally avoids the switch from GPLv2 to GPLv3. It has the unfortunate side-effect, that it doesn't take part in the defense of the opensource world from the most recent danger, the patent manipulation by different "patent broker" companies or large software producers.

What was the reason behind that? Was it Linus' decision?


2 Answers 2


Two things.

First, Linux does not require contributors to assign copyright to some central person. Copyright on it is spread out among many, many people (including some who are dead, in which case much effort would be required to figure out who inherited the copyright). Any of them could stop a license switch, unless someone goes through and removes all parts of their work from the kernel. Because GPL v2 and v3 are incompatible, it is illegal to release Linux under v3 with any contributions licensed under v2 only.

Second, Torvalds personally does not like GPL v3. He particularly dislikes certain provisions (like anti-tivoization), which are not restrictions he wants to impose on users of his software. As he won't release his stuff under v3, the whole kernel can't be released under v3 by anyone without prohibitive effort. But he is not the only person who could singlehandedly make it impractical to release the kernel under v3.

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    I don't disagree with any of this, but it would help if you could support these two points with some references. Commented Sep 6, 2015 at 7:19
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    The first is obvious (based on how copyright law works), since GPL does not allow sub-licensing. As for the second Linus has made this clear on several occasions and quite a few kernel developers agree with him.
    – cyphar
    Commented Sep 6, 2015 at 10:34
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    There is a nice essay from Catherine Olanich Raymond - the wife of Eric Raymond: catb.org/~esr/Licensing-HOWTO.html that explains that you wold only need the permission from the at max 50 most active people in the project if you like to change the license. This is for the US. For Europe, there is a similar law: minor contributors cannot influence the way of marking but only get a matching percentage of the revenues.
    – schily
    Commented Sep 14, 2015 at 13:33
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    For me it's simple: I'm glad that Tesla is using Linux for it's control software, and I do NOT want them to have to publish their software download code so that someone can download their own version of control software into my car. If GPLv3 carved out exceptions for security and other innovations which have nothing to do with the base open source software it might be more palatable. Commented Feb 15, 2017 at 17:33
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    @JonSpencer Nonsense. If a hacker had access to your Tesla in such a way that he could flash new firmware, you have way bigger problems. Besides that, custom firmware can also be created without having the original source code. And if the firmware was open source you could actually check if it was truly secure or if Tesla had an agreement with the FBI to implement a backdoor into the firmware. Or to put it in different words: If it was open source, there wouldn't be such a backdoor. The way it currently is there might be one and any good hacker could use it.
    – Forivin
    Commented May 8, 2018 at 8:11

Here is a video of Linus Torvalds where he explains his opinion on GPLv3. Some excerpts from his speech:

Here we give your version 3 and then we try to sneak in these new rules and try to force everybody to upgrade. That was the part I disliked. And the FSF did some really sneaky stuff. Downright immoral in my opinion.


I am thinking tivoization isn't necessarily something that you should strive for. But in my world view it's your decision if you make hardware that blocks down the software. That's your decision as a hardware maker. That has no impact on my decision as a software maker to give you the software.

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    A couple more key points: Torvalds saw an earlier (never published) version of GPL v3 five years before it went public and it was after seeing those versions that he changed Linux from being "GPLv2 or later" to just "GPLv2". He also said he thinks GPLv3 is a great license, he just doesn't think it's a good successor to version 2 - the fundamental goals of v3 are are different to v2 as far as he is concerned. Commented Sep 9, 2015 at 1:40
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    @AbhiBeckert I think the fundamental goal of both licenses are to protect the common knowledge of the humanity. GPLv3 does this better, accomodated to the changed situation (patent manipulation challenge). Thus... :-(
    – peterh
    Commented Sep 10, 2015 at 20:31
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    @peterh GPLv3 "does it better" by adding restrictions that GPLv2 didn't have. I think there's a reasonable argument to make that they shouldn't have done that. But personally I don't really care too much what the FSF does – I won't use any license they create or contribute to any project under one of their licenses. Commented Sep 11, 2015 at 4:25
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    @AbhiBeckert, as I remember it, Linus was always wary of the GPL covered by "or later" could be radically different, and was comfortable with GPLv2.
    – vonbrand
    Commented Mar 21, 2016 at 0:25
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    @AbhiBeckert, GPLv3 dates from 2007, first (public) discussions started in 2005. By then, Linux was 14 years old, and at least 13 under GPLv2 only.
    – vonbrand
    Commented Mar 22, 2016 at 1:10

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