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Re: Binary-only firmware covered by the GPL?

J.D. Hood wrote:

> This problem affects the mwavem package too.  This package contains
> firmware for the 3780i DSP chip which implements a modem.  (The
> chip can be found in some older IBM ThinkPad laptops.)  IBM published
> both the 3780i driver (named "mwave"), a userspace firmware loader
> and the firmware itself all under the GPL.
> Let's consider these three bits of code.
> The driver alone is published under the GPL, so the combination of
> the kernel plus the driver is also distributable under the terms
> of the GPL.
> The firmware loader is published under the GPL and so can be linked
> to GPL code and distributed under the terms of the GPL.
> The firmware is published by IBM under the GPL.  No DSP assembler
> source code is provided -- just the binaries.  Assuming IBM is the
> original licensor, we are left to infer that the preferred form of
> the firmware for making modifications is the binary as it is shipped.
Right -- provided that they aren't, uh, "lying" about it.

Given how incredibly unlikely it is that the binary really is the preferred
form of the people at IBM, and given IBM's reasonable behavior in the past
regarding open source projects, someone should ask them about it, and if
they say it isn't really their preferred form, point out the licensing

> If that is the whole story then the whole kit and kaboodle is GPL
> and there is no problem.
> Now, suppose it is the case that IBM has assembler source code for
> the firmware.  Is IBM allowed to refrain from publishing that along
> with the binary?  Well, of course.  IBM can't be compelled by the
> terms of its own license.
(1) the assembler source code is the preferred form for modification
(2) IBM doesn't make it available with the binary
Then the GPL doesn't grant *any* rights to distribute the binary, to anyone,
period.  :-P  So effectively, IBM would not have granted any right to
redistribute the firmware!

This is a worrisome case, because it means that Debian wouldn't legally have
a license to distribute the firmware *at* *all*, even in non-free.

Other than missing this issue, good analysis.  :-)

Make sure your vote will count.

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