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Re: generated source files, GPL and DFSG

On 7/22/05, Jeff King <peff-deblegal@peff.net> wrote:
> Let's say I write a program in C code and compile it to assembly
> language, which I distribute. Somebody else writes an equivalent program
> directly in assembly language and distributes it. The distributed
> products contain the same amount of information about how they work.
> How is one of these free and the other non-free?

Nothing stops us from considering the evidence of the upstream
developer's intent when they release a program in a less than
perfectly maintainable condition.  It's natural that they know some
things about it we don't, but if it seems obfuscated beyond the limits
of good faith, somebody should blow a whistle.

We know perfectly well that the NVidia driver is in the condition it's
in partly because its development is funded by a profit-seeking entity
that has no wish to destabilize its market position, either by making
it easier for a competitor to produce a graphics chip to which the
driver could easily be ported, or by losing its privileged
relationship to Microsoft when an inspired Linux hacker reworks the
driver and related bits of the Linux graphics subsystem to get triple
the FPS of the Windows (or XBox) version.  (I think triple is probably
an exaggeration, but there's room for improvement.)  It's very clever
of NVidia to support both a fully proprietary Linux driver and a
driver we can call "open source" if we don't look too closely.  Do we
mind being manipulated this way?  A little, but we work with it.

That's an extreme case, but the fact is that upstreams do all sorts of
things to the code and documentation to pursue agendas at best
orthogonal to, and often in opposition to, their users' and especially
potential forkers' interests.  [I was going to add another rant about
the FSF here, but got bored with it.]

- Michael

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