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Re: non-free firmware in kernel modules, aggregation and unclear copyright notice.

On Tue, 5 Apr 2005, Humberto Massa wrote:

Josselin Mouette wrote:

You are mixing apples and oranges. The fact that the GFDL sucks has
nothing to do with the firmware issue. With the current situation of
firmwares in the kernel, it is illegal to redistribute binary images of
the kernel. Full stop. End of story. Bye bye. Redhat and SuSE may still
be willing to distribute such binary images, but it isn't our problem.

Wrong! It is perfectly legal in the United States, and I'm pretty
sure in your country, to distribute or redistribute copyrighted
works. Otherwise there wouldn't be any bookstores or newspaper

There is nothing about firmware that is any different than any
other component of a product. If the product was legally obtained
and it requires firmware to run, then there are no special
considerations about how one inserts the firmware into the

If you are a GPL-religious-zealot who believes that you are
supposed to get the technical design (i.e. the software schematics)
of the hardware device for free so you can copy it, then you are
going to have to learn something about intellectual property.

The firmware, in most cases, are the bits generated by a design
program that creates the function of the device. It's what the
manufacturer paid 5-10 engineers over a period of a year or so
to produce. The rest of the design is just some chips you
can get off-the-shelf. Even if the manufacturer said; "Here you
are.... You can have the design....". You don't have the
"compilers" and other stuff necessary to turn this design
into the firmware unless you planned to steal the design.

So, you either accept the firmware component, thanking the
manufacturer for it, or you go cry foul someplace else. This
whole firmware thing is a non-issue, blown way out of
proportion by people who don't have a clue.

Sometimes a manufacturer doesn't have a separate bag-of-bits
to supply competing operating systems. Instead, only one
"driver" for one OS was produced by the manufacturer.
Extracting those bits, from offset-N to offset-M in that
driver likely constitutes fair use as long as the product
wasn't stolen and the driver was distributed with the
product, or was publicly available.

Yes, GFDL has nothing to do with the main issue. No, it is not
necessarily illegal to redistribute binary images of the kernel as they
are today (see below). The first problem is that they (the complete
w/firmware kernel binary images) are not DFSG-free, anyway. The second
problem is that some firmware blobs don't have explicitly stated in the
kernel tree which exactly are their licensing terms for redistribution
-- those are, in principle, undistributable.

Putting the firmwares outside the kernel makes them distributable. Some
distributions will want to include them, some others not. But the
important point is that it makes that redistribution legal.

If putting the firmwares outside the kernel makes *them* distributable,
then the binary kernel image is already distributable -- just not
DFSG-free. The important fact WRT Debian, IMHO, is that putting the
firmwares outside the kernel makes the kernel binary image DFSG-free.


Dick Johnson
Penguin : Linux version 2.6.11 on an i686 machine (5537.79 BogoMips).
 Notice : All mail here is now cached for review by Dictator Bush.
                 98.36% of all statistics are fiction.

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