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acenic firmware situation summary

Warning: long. CC'ed to debian-legal in case anyone there knows anything more.

The source for the acenic driver is in fact in the source package for 
the kernel.

The firmware is absent from Debian for *very* good reasons: the version in
the Linux kernel is distributed without proper copyright notices or a license.
(SCO should really have bought up firmware copyrights if it wanted to sue Linux
distributors.)  I do so wish people wouldn't go off ranting about
"anti-firmware fanatics" before checking the facts.

(If someone wants to try to change Debian policy so that Debian can distribute
copyright-encumbered works with no clear license, go ahead.  However,
Debian's current policy is, I believe, to follow the law strictly in
copyright matters.)

As a point of interest, the source code for the ACENIC firmware is
actually available at http://alteon.shareable.org/, but it comes without
a proper license, so it's no good if you want to do things legally.

The web page says:
"Look at the source files yourself to understand any licensing restrictions on
their use.  Alteon's license may be summarised like this: you may share
and develop the firmware, but it is only for use with Alteon NIC

Unfortunately, looking at the source files, I find that they are "all rights
reserved" and I can find no license grant.  The Alteon Open Firmware
Agreement doesn't appear to exist any more.  So his summary of the license
appears to be wrong.

Perhaps someone can track down the original license
listed on the now-defunct web page (supposedly http://alteonwebsystems.com/)
where Alteon allowed people to download the firmware?
(This is a sad lesson for the developers of the Arsenic enhanced firmware:
Never, ever, point to someone else's license on a web page; *always* put a
verbatim copy in your distribution.)

At least they have proper copyright notices; I suppose Alteon's successor
might be convinced to release it under a Free license, or at least a
license which grants permission to distribute.  Alteon is now owned by Nortel,
but apparently sold the ACENIC business to 3Com.  Did that include the firmware?
Who knows?  Unfortunately, 3Com seems to be pretty bad about responding to
licensing-related requests.  If anyone knows someone on the "inside", it would
help.  :-P

(Parts are also copyright "Essential Communication Corp.", and I have no
idea what's become of them; I think they may be the "Essential
Communications Corp." which was bought by ODS Networks according to
http://www.bizjournals.com/dallas/stories/1998/05/04/daily7.html.  Also,
Alteon presumably had a license from them, and it may allow Alteon to
sublicense arbitrarily; http://www.socratek.com/Agreement-Preview.asp?num=37354
may have something to do with this, or may not.)

More usefully, the alteon.shareable.org web page features the documentation
for the board, and although that's all under copyright too, it could certainly
be legally used as a reference for writing your own firmware.  (And if you do,
you can release it under a Free license and everyone will be happy.)

Jamie Lokier's tools on the same webpage, in contrast to the firmware itself,
are GPL, and could certainly be used to help develop new firmware.

A related page is http://www.cl.cam.ac.uk/~tjd21/alteon/, with more
GPL tools which might be useful for anyone developing new firmware.

In addition, if someone gets the original firmware licensed acceptably (or
writes new firmware to which the changes can be applied), there's some
serious improvements -- the "Arsenic" firmware -- released under a
4-clause BSD license from http://www.cl.cam.ac.uk/Research/SRG/netos/arsenic/.

I think that sums it up.

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