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Re: kernel driver module with proprietary closed source piece.

Sven Luther <luther@dpt-info.u-strasbg.fr>:

> > I think there is general consensus that splitting stuff into separate
> > components, distributed separately, is not a valid way of bypassing
> > the GPL. If you distribute stuff whose only plausible purpose is to
> Well, if it is separated and there is a public api that the proprietary
> part uses, then i guess everyone could write their own free replacement,
> could they not ? it is just that nobody has done so yet.

I'm not sure whether that would be enough if the GPL part is no good
on its own and there is only one piece of software in existence that
can connect throught the API and that software is not GPL-compatible.
Perhaps you would get away with it if you carefully told people that
they should definitely not use the GPL-incompatible code and that you
are only releasing the stuff in order to encourage people to complete
the program by implementing the missing bit, but this sounds like the
sort of question you could consult a very expensive lawyer about and
still not get a straight answer.

> Also, if the proprietary part was separated, then i guess the it would
> be easier for the GPLed part to go into the kernel, and only ship the
> userland part with the board or something such.

You don't want that, becase the kernel would then depend on non-free
code so Debian would have to put the kernel in contrib!

(However, I think Linus's edition of the kernel already contains some
binary-only code that is loaded into periferals, so the kernel should
already be in non-free, so maybe the usual rules don't apply to the
kernel ...)

> > The distribution of GPL-incompatible kernel modules is possible
> > because modules that communicate via the standard module interface are
> > not considered to be part of the kernel, I think.
> Erm, so it would be ok for Bewan to distribute the free part under the
> GPL together with the proprietary part ? I think they still need an
> exception or something such.

I think they still need an exception if Debian is to distribute
binaries. If Debian is to distribute only a source package, as someone
has already suggested, then any licence that permits redistribution is
enough, I think, and it would go into non-free.

> Would a BSD style licence be better in this case ?

I think it would be, because it would allow distribution of a binary
module (in non-free).

To summarise, as I see it, this stuff cannot go into main as it
depends on the non-free stuff. You could split off the free bit into
contrib, but there's not much benefit; you might as well leave it all
in non-free for simplicity. Having the bits that are free available
under a GPL-compatible licence is a definite advantage, as people can
fix bugs and borrow code for writing other drivers, but having any
part available only under the GPL is not so good as it would prevent
the distribution of binaries. Writing GPL exceptions is a pain, so a
BSD-style licence might be best. Comments?


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