Linked by Thom Holwerda on Tue 9th Nov 2010 22:24 UTC, submitted by koki
GNU, GPL, Open Source Now this is interesting. We see what is at its core a very valid concern, in practice not a problem to anyone, and, thanks to the tone of the press release, close to trolling. The Free Software Foundation Latin America is complaining about something that has been known for a while - there is some non-Free code stuck in the Linux kernel (mostly firmware). A valid issue of concern from an idealogical viewpoint, but sadly, the tone of the press release turns this valid concern into something close to trolling.
Thread beginning with comment 449360
To view parent comment, click here.
To read all comments associated with this story, please click here.
raboof
Member since:
2005-07-24

Really, what needs to happen is for more end-user education into the differences between "device firmware" running on the physical device, and "device driver" running in the kernel as part of the OS.


It is obvious this distinction exists.

They are *very* different things, and the OSSness of one does not affect the OSSness of the other.


The GPL talks about a 'work' that is 'distributed'.

From the license:

You must cause any work that you distribute or publish, that in whole or in part contains or is derived from the Program or any part thereof, to be licensed as a whole at no charge to all third parties under the terms of this License


It's obvious the Linux Kernel is a work that in part contains another GPL'ed work (many, actually). You could certainly argue that because the firmware blobs, even though they're not drivers, are distributed with the kernel, they are part of 'the work' and thus should be licensed under the terms of the GPL.

Now I'm not saying that's the only interpretation - but it's certainly not an entirely unreasonable one.

I'm not taking sides - but if the question whether it's acceptable to have binary firmware blobs in the kernel were a trivial clear-cut one, this debate wouldn't keep popping up like it does.

Reply Parent Score: 2

Slambert666 Member since:
2008-10-30

It's obvious the Linux Kernel is a work that in part contains another GPL'ed work (many, actually). You could certainly argue that because the firmware blobs, even though they're not drivers, are distributed with the kernel, they are part of 'the work' and thus should be licensed under the terms of the GPL.


A distro like ubuntu contains GPL and non GPL (LGPL, BSD, MIT, etc. etc.). Your argument is that since this is all distributed together with GPL software, it must all be GPL (or nothing).

Besides being absurd on its own, there is nothing in the GPL that mandates this. The Kernel is a software bundle, as is a distro.

Reply Parent Score: 5

r_a_trip Member since:
2005-07-06

Not correct. The distribution clause only kicks in at a certain set of circumstances. The deciding part of the verbiage is the bold part below.

You must cause any work that you distribute or publish, that in whole or in part contains or is derived from the Program or any part thereof, to be licensed as a whole at no charge to all third parties under the terms of this License

Since the binary firmware is not derived from (part of) the Linux kernel, nor does it contain (part of) the Linux kernel, it is not part of the work. This is not derivation, but mere aggregation and that is perfectly allowed by the GPL.

The stance of the FSF against binary firmware is that it forms a non-free, non-modifiable piece of proprietary software for the end user, but it is modifiable by the copyrightholder, so it could in theory also be free software. The only thing that could be said about the aggregation of binary firmware with the Linux kernel, is that Linux, in doing so, promotes non-free software.

I'm not too worried about it, as RMS has indicated that if that same loadable firmware was to be burned into ROM (Read Only Memory) onto the device, he would be fine with it, as the modifiabilty would be precluded from everyone. I prefer the fixable, loadable firmware, over the kind that is burned unfixable into ROM. The software currently is unmodifiable by me (or other end users) in both cases and burning it into ROM would just make our peripheral devices more prone to carry annoying bugs.

Also, the firmware is very device specific code. While the possibility of malfeasance is present (spying and the like), I don't think there is a lot of firmware out there working against the owners of the devices. The primary function is to control the peripheral device.

Reply Parent Score: 7

ndrw Member since:
2009-06-30

> I prefer the fixable, loadable firmware, over the kind that is burned unfixable into ROM.

So do I, with the caveat that it doesn't come with an over-restrictive license.

Firmware in ROM is, well, already in ROM, it was purchased together with the device and no copying or processing is involved in making the device work. OTOH, firmware distributed with drivers is subject to licensing terms, which may prevent people from distributing it along the opensource drivers. To me, as long as the blob is freely redistributable, it is as good as firmware in ROM.

Reply Parent Score: 5