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Packaging em8300 Drivers [Was: Re: Packaging reverse engineered software]

On Sun, Sep 02, 2001 at 11:51:52PM +0200, Michael Moerz wrote:
> Hi!
> I want to package some kernel drivers for mpeg decoder cards that 
> feature em8300 chipsets.
> The problem I see arising is that some parts of the software are
> based on information gained from reverse engineering windows vxds.

Not a problem. 

> An other thing that is of importance is that the decoding of mpegs
> won't work as long as some microcode is extracted from the windows
> vxd and then uploaded to the chipset.

Reverse engineering is not a problem. The problem is with the microcode.
Microcode which has been copied wholesale without the copyright holder's
permission can not be distributed.

> So I think in the best case this piece of software is contrib, but
> reverse engineering is prohibited in a number of countries 

More important is whether or not reverse engineering was prohibited in the
country where it actually took place. In most places, including the United
States, reverse engineering is a legitimate engineering practice engaged in
by almost every hardware manufacturer and software publisher.

> and so
> I am not sure if this would be better go into non-free or even stay
> out of the archive. Therefore I am asking for some advice.

Since we can't distribute the firmware at all without infringing, it can't
even go in contrib or non-free.

One way to deal with the situation would be to reverse engineer the
microcode to produce a specification on the instruction set, and then write
new microcode based on the specification. Another way is to get permission
to distribute the microcode (and preferably its source code as well) from
the copyright holder. 

A third, less optimal solution might be to require the user to provide their
own copy of the Windows .vxd file from which the firmware would be extracted
at runtime. In this case, the software could go in contrib. If the user is a
legitimate owner of the card in question, they probably own a copy of the
.vxd file as well and so won't be inconvenienced too badly.

Brian Ristuccia

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