Bird & Bird translates open source standard licence into Dutch

01 December 2008

Bart Beuving, Maurits Westerik

Bart Beuving and Maurits Westerik, members of Bird & Bird’s Open Source Knowledge Group, have translated the popular open source GPLv3 software licence into Dutch.  The translation is available on the GNU site.

The GNU General Public License which is often known as GNU GPL or simply GPL, is the most popular open source software licence in use today. “Copyleft” licences generally state that the source code of the software covered by the licence should be made freely available, so that anyone can use, study, share and improve it, these are known as the “four freedoms”. Works derived from the licensed works should be made available under the same licence conditions. Under this philosophy, GPL grants recipients of a computer program the four freedoms and uses the copyright licence terms to ensure that those freedoms are preserved, even when the work is changed or added to. This is in contrast to permissive free software licences, of which the BSD and MIT licences are the best known examples.

Originally developed some 25 years ago by the founding father of the Free Software movement, MIT developer Richard Stallman, GPL now exists in its third version. GPLv3 was published on 29 June 2007 and addresses new challenges in the field of open source software, such as software patent licensing deals, hardware restrictions on software modification ("tivoization") and increasing internationalisation.

In the year since its publication GPLv3 has received both praise and criticism from around the world. Its acceptance has been hindered by its rather convoluted wording, which has caused many to misunderstand several clauses of GPLv3. Although regrettable, this apparent weakness stems from one of GPLv3’s most lofty goals.

One of the aims of GPLv3’s drafting committee was to internationalise the language of the licence and to move away from the US-centric design and wording of GPLv2. Unlike most licenses and indeed most contracts, GPLv3 does not include a choice of law and jurisdiction clause.  Instead it aims to be enforceable across the globe and in any system of law. To make uniform interpretation across jurisdictions possible, the drafters chose to use words without a fixed legal meaning.  This meant that they had to include lengthy definitions of those words to ensure that GPLv3 would speak its own language.

Although the original English version is the only binding version of GPLv3, the Free Software Foundation encourages the use of local translations to further the understanding of GPLv3’s meaning and proper use. Bird & Bird lawyers Bart Beuving and Maurits Westerik, both Open Source enthusiasts, recently published their Dutch translation of GPLv3. Both of them teach and advise on the subject of Open Source and its legal implications. The translation can be obtained at


Image of Maurits Westerik

Maurits Westerik

Senior Counsel

Call me on: +31 (0)70 353 8800