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

On Tue, 5 Apr 2005, Josselin Mouette wrote:

Le mardi 05 avril 2005 ˙˙ 11:50 -0400, Richard B. Johnson a ˙˙crit :
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

It is not legal to distribute the mix of a GPL software (the Linux
kernel) and a proprietary file (the firmware). I wasn't aware of the
"mere aggregation" interpretation, and I'm probably a bit late to say I
disagree with it - mainly because you'd have a hard time convincing a
court this is the case.

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

Indeed, but that's not what I'm talking about.

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.

Maybe you should try to understand what people are saying before
teaching them anything.

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.

You are completely missing the point. I don't care whether the firmwares
should be free, or whether they could be free. The fact is they are not
free, and Debian doesn't distribute non-free software in the "main"
archive. The fact is also that mixing them with a GPLed software gives
an result you can't redistribute - although it seems many people
disagree with that assertion now.

As previously explained, if I buy a screen-card I get a driver
that will allow it to run under Windows. If I extract the stuff
from that driver that allows me to run it under Linux, that
constitutes fair use. Otherwise there are criminal issues like
restraint-of-trade and similar problems for the manufacturer.
That firmware is free for use on/in the device you purchased.

Finally, you shouldn't forget that, technically speaking, using hotplug
for uploading the firmware is much more flexible and elegant than
including it in the kernel. Upgrading the firmware and the module should
be two independent operations. People who are advocating the current
situation are refusing technical improvements just because they are
brought by people they find convenient to call "zealots".

Throwing in a bit of truth to a pile of bullshit still leaves
the bullshit. It isn't relevant to the issue whether or not
upgrading firmware as a separate function from loading a module
is "good" or "bad".

.''`.           Josselin Mouette        /\./\
: :' :           josselin.mouette@ens-lyon.org
`. `'                        joss@debian.org
 `-  Debian GNU/Linux -- The power of freedom

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.
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