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Re: Retailing

On Mon, Nov 14, 2005 at 05:44:25PM -0600, Peter Samuelson wrote:
> [Michael Poole]
> > For example, GRUB and Linux are both licensed under the GPL.  Both
> > would be included with these retail systems and would be written to
> > locate and call functions within the BIOS; that is, GRUB and Linux
> > would be dynamically linked against the (presumably non-free) BIOS.
> It has long been a perception that the computer BIOS, like the kernel,
> provides an API across which a program can execute without considering
> the kernel a derived work of the userspace programs, or the BIOS a
> derived work of the kernel.  The same is not believed to be true of
> shared libraries in a userspace application.
> I myself am not certain what the important distinction is between those
> two cases, but this is very well established GPL interpretation dogma.

I think it comes back to the *intent* of the "modules it contains"
restriction.  It's quite simple to build a binary-only shared object and
modify a GPL-licenced program to use it, so if this were allowed the
copyleft provision of the GPL would be severely constrained in the face of a
determined software hoarder.  On the other hand, modifying a kernel or a
BIOS to provide this binary-only interface is quite a bit more difficult[1].

Looking at it that way, it becomes a lot easier to see why
dynamically-linked libraries are targeted, while BIOSes aren't.

- Matt

[1] There aren't a lot of OSes to choose from to hack on, for instance, and
the primary choice -- Linux -- is protected by it's own GPL sphere of
invulnerability[2].  As for BIOSes, well, the argument goes double for that
little pool of non-freeness.

[2] Although if you were utterly determined to go through with it, I suppose
you could write a non-free program to run in userspace, then write a GPL
kernel module which called it, and then modify the GPL'd program to call the
kernel module which would call the non-free program.  I can't imagine how
that would really escape anyone's attention for long, and while judges may
not be particularly tech-savvy, they're certainly not stupid.

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