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General Public License Purpose


Information exchange specifications, especially XML specifications, are becoming increasingly more important in developing interoperable information systems. The ability to easily transfer data between two or more heterogeneous systems is facilitated by developing relatively simple, high quality, consensus based information exchange specifications that are made available to, and utilized by, multiple software developers.

There is a difference between "generic" information exchange specifications and "subject-matter-specific" information exchange specifications. As the name suggests, generic specifications are common to all types of information. Generic specifications are usually foundation technologies (e.g., HTTP, FTP, SMTP, HTML, XML, SOAP, WSDL, ebXML). Subject-matter-specific specifications are specific to particular industries, such as legal, medical, or banking, and even specific to sub-industries, such as court, justice, transcript, legislation, and contract, within the legal industry. Subject-matter-specific specifications sit "on top" of foundation technologies. The General Public License ("GPL") is intended to address subject-matter-specific specifications, particularly industry-specific XML specifications.

There are a number of barriers to developing and maintaining usable subject-matter specific information exchange specifications:

  • Developing specifications requires subject matter experts (e.g., legal experts, medical experts, or banking experts) who are also well versed in technology.
  • Developing quality, usable specifications requires a significant investment of time and resources by qualified subject matter experts.
  • Information exchange specifications, because of their nature as a bridge between different systems, are of limited use if they are not relatively simple, widely distributed, and usable royalty free.
  • Once developed, information exchange specifications are of limited use if they can be, or are, either unilaterally changed or implemented inconsistently.

Purpose of the GPL

Most, if not all, existing GPLs license software or documentation. This GPL addresses information exchange technologies used to define and enable the exchange of information between different information systems. The information exchange technologies specifically addressed by the GPL are:

The goals of the GPL are to ensure that:

  • Original works licensed under the GPL ("Licensed Works") are free to the public and remain royalty free under non-discriminatory terms.
  • Software applications that are developed around Licensed Works are interoperable, and remain interoperable, with other software applications developed around the same Licensed Works.
  • Original ideas and intellectual property embodied in Licensed Works are not used or copied, in whole or in part, in unauthorized derivative works that would (a) compete as information exchange technologies or (b) make applications built around Licensed Works incompatible with applications developed around unauthorized derivative works. (In other words, put in place a legal infrastructure that protects against the HTML Browser Wars.)
  • Derivative works created from Licensed Works are versioned or extended in a manner usable to the owners and developers of the Licensed Works.
  • Owners of Licensed Works, individually, or as a group, preserve a cause of action against individuals or organizations who violate this license.

In short, the GPL is intended to facilitate the development of royalty-free XML specifications, while ensuring interoperability and standardization. Some may dislike the GPL because it strictly and strongly protects standards and intellectual property. Others may enjoy the technical flexibility of the Schema Framework coupled with the security and predictability provided by the GPL.

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