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Re: non-free firmware: driver in main or contrib?

Matthew Garrett <mgarrett@chiark.greenend.org.uk> writes:

> Brian Thomas Sniffen <bts@alum.mit.edu> wrote:
>> Marco, it seems to me that there's a parallel case to non-free
>> firmware: dongleware.  Perhaps you could explain how this philosophy
>> applies to that.  If a piece of software is distributed under the GPL,
>> can I add functionality by putting it into firmware on a dongle and
>> having GCC call that?
> It would obviously be insane to consider that free, since you'd
> obviously only be doing it in order to circumvent GPL requirements. On
> the other hand, holding the same standards in driver-land would be
> equally ridiculous - people use firmware because that's the way it's
> always been, not because they're trying to screw us over.

OK, it would be GPL-incompatible.  Would it be free?

> There are drivers we ship that require you to have a specific version of
> the firmware in eeprom. In at least one case, it's not possible to
> provide this without the user returning the card so that extra flash can
> be attached. Would you class this as dongleware or acceptable behaviour?

I don't think dongleware like that is free -- if I could remove the
dongle and the software which checks for it and still have the same
functionality, then it's free.

I think that requiring a hardware upgrade to support behavior is
irrelevant to free software.  Firmware that's part of the hardware is
part of the hardware.  Firmware that looks like software is software.
If Debian *could* ship it, it's software.  Stuff requiring
3d-acceleration, or the -686 kernels, are all free.


Brian Sniffen                                       bts@alum.mit.edu

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