Profoss / Events / April 2009 Legal Matters / Speakers / Philippe Laurent / Philippe Laurent interview

Philippe Laurent interview

You will give a talk about the EUPL. What is it?


The EUPL is the Open Source licence that has been created on the initiative of the European Commission. It is a copyleft Open Source licence, which has been officially translated into 22 European languages and which is specifically adapted to European law. It has recently been certified by the OSI as compliant with the “open source definition”.

Why was it developed? Was there a real need?

The Commission has always showed a keen interest in open source software development. The EUPL project started when the Commission expressed the will to licence its own software under an open source licence. Quickly, it realized that none of the existing licences would have fully complied with its requirements.

Being an official organism, and one of the most important governmental bodies of the European Union, the Commission needed indeed a licence fully accurate under European law and to be able to provide official translations of the document in all languages of the Union. Moreover, it had to keep control of the licence’s evolution. Creating its own licence and keeping copyrights on it was therefore unavoidable. Moreover the Commission noticed, after enquiries, that national and regional administrations would also welcome such endeavour.

However, creating a new licence is not without negative consequences. Being fully aware of such issue, the European Commission showed an exceptional open-mindness by introducing a specific “compatibility clause” whose aim is to resolve most of the incompatibility problems that could have occurred with other pre-existing and mainstream “strong copyleft” licences, such as GPLv2 for example.

Version 1.1 of the license was published recently. Why this update?

From the remarks and reactions received by the Commission on v.1.0, it appeared that some small clarifications had to be done in order to avoid interpretation problems. Fundamentally, there is no big difference between v.1.0 and v1.1, the drafting has only been improved without affecting the spirit of the licence.

One of the clarifications worth mentioning is the modification of article 1 in order to clearly deal with on-line activities such as “Application Service Providers” (ASP) or “Software as a Service” (SaaS). These activities have been more explicitly included in the scope of the copyleft effect: the EUPL could therefore be described as an “affero-like” licence.

Is the license used a lot in the EU?

First of all, I must stress that EUPL is a newborn licence, and as any newborn licence, its first main user is its drafter… in the present case: the European Commission. The first pieces of software that have been distributed under the EUPL licence are administrative tools that IDABC developed. Other European projects have announced the release of software under EUPL, such as Eurostat for example.

As to the future, we can reasonably expect a strong increase of the use of the EUPL licence amongst its first-line potential users, namely governments and administrations (including local authorities). However, one knows that decisions always take more time when it comes to administrations… We can also reasonably expect that EUPL will more and more be used in the framework of procurements and European subsidized initiatives. Some private users showed also interest in the EUPL, but I really think the move will come first from official institutions.


A last thing: what's the question you get most about the EUPL, and what's your answer to it?

Why is EUPL not compatible with GPLv3?

GPLv3 is indeed not yet in the compatibility list… Here is my personal understanding of the issue.


EUPL and GPLv3 incubation processes took place more or less at the same time. EUPL v1.0 has been adopted in January 2007, and GPLv3 a little bit later on. After the release of EUPL v1.0, the Commission focussed on translating and clarifying the licence in order to release EUPL v.1.1 in 22 languages without changing its content. This phase corresponds more or less to the period where GPL communities started to debate whether to adopt GPLv3 (or even AGPLv3) for their projects.

At the present time, it seems that the GPLv3 has reached a good maturity level , and that its use is still increasing (even though it is still much less used than its old sister GPLv2)… so the question of adding it to the compatibility list becomes quite recurrent.

I really believe that the Commission remains open to adding to the list any strong copyleft licences that are actually applying to software commonly used by administrations. Since the creation of the compatibility list, the possibility to enlarge it has been duly considered and accepted. Some criteria have even been proposed to this end. However, an institution such as the Commission always needs some strong arguments as well as accurate and convincing facts before making any moves… I would therefore invite any stakeholder for whom compatibility with GPLv3 matters, to express this interest, via the OSOR public forum for example.