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Re: Kernel Firmware issue: are GPLed sourceless firmwares legal to distribute ?

On Wed, Oct 04, 2006 at 11:58:51AM +0300, Kalle Kivimaa wrote:
> [Restricting to -legal, feel free to widen the audience if neccessary]
> Sven Luther <sven.luther@wanadoo.fr> writes:
> > So, the RMs are making claims that those sourceless GPLed drivers don't cause
> > any kind of distribution problem, while i strongly believe that the GPL clause
> > saying that all the distribution rights under the GPL are lost if you cannot
> > abide by all points, including the requirement for sources.
> If the copyright holder distributes the material under GPL, I would be
> surprised that a court would find redistributing that same material
> under GPL invalid. The copyright holder obviously believes that the

No, because the copyright holder has the right to distribute the GPLed code
without source, as long as he is the sole copyright holder.

> hex dump is the "preferred method of modification" in this case - why

The case here is more insidious. There is ample evidence that this is not "the
preferred method of modification", and the license change of the broacom/tg3
driver for example clearly states : 

  "Derived from proprietary unpublished source code"

Which leaves little doubt about this.

> else would it be distributed under GPL instead of some "no
> modifications, no redistributions" -license?

The broadcom/tg3 licence, which broadcom clarified after we approached them
states : 

   Permission is hereby granted for the distribution of this firmware
   data in hexadecimal or equivalent format, provided this copyright
   notice is accompanying it.

so, syntactic modifications and distribution.

The main point is that the actual reason for this mess is that those vendors
provided these firmware blobs without thinking of the implication, and the
upstream kernel folk took them in because it was more convenient to consider
them as "data" (to the kernel). So, the implicit placement of these binary
blobs under the GPL is an oversight, not something willingly done by the
firmware copyright holders.


Sven Luther

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