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Re: please release sarge instead of removing binary firmware

[signatories bcc'ed, except for Peter De Schrijver who doesn't appear to be
a developer]

On Tue, Apr 13, 2004 at 12:53:14PM +0200, Andreas Barth et al wrote:
> Dear Release-Managers,
> currently, there is an ongoing discussion about binary-blobs in the Linux
> kernels. 

Hrm, evidently this needs a clearer response than repeated hitting
of Ctrl-D.

So, there's two issues here. One is that binary firmware is non-free
as it doesn't include source. The other is that it's GPL incompatible,
for the same reasonable. The first one's not a major issue for the time
being, blatting firmware to devices isn't as big a deal as non-free
libc documentation, so it's unlikely we'll worry about it 'til the
documentation issue's dealt with.

GPL incompatability otoh, is something we tend to take seriously. We've
known about this issue for ages [0] and to the best of my knowledge, the
kernel guys agreed that the proper approach is to remove the firmware from
the .c files, and instead add a way of loading the firmware at runtime
(an ioctl or a /proc or /dev file/API of some sort) [1]. 

The two issues that seem to be in the RC bug list, Bug#242866 and
Bug#242865 both refer to files that are treated as modules. While some
of these files may be licensed under non-GPL licenses, without a strong
argument that particular modules were developed with no knowledge of
Linux and only later ported to Linux, the assumption is that modules
have to be able to be distributed under the terms of the GPL; which
means the firmware needs to have source code, so this is a legal issue,
not just a policy one.

If it turns out there are real problems with separating particular bits
of code out into userspace (eg, the firmware's needed to be able to
boot far enough to load userspace, or the graphics card can't display
any output without the firmware, or similar) then specific exemptions
may need to be made while we see if there's anything else we can do,
but in the general case, this stuff needs to be separated out into
userspace as a matter of complying with the GPL.

In the longer term, these separate firmware files will probably need to
move to non-free too. That's not an issue for sarge though.

If folks believe the above legal reasoning is implausible or incorrect,
the easiest way to convince me otherwise is to get Eben Moglen or someone
similar who both knows the law, and understands the GPL to say otherwise.

> We all agree that Debian should only consist of free software.
> However, in the real world, not all problems are so easy solvable as we all
> wish. 

In particular, for most things, moving the firmware to userspace is
feasible (even if Linus thinks it's braindead) and seems to be the
only solution anyone's come up with. Once most things have been done,
if there's anything remaining that's particularly hard, that's another

[0] See http://lwn.net/Articles/3467/ from 2002, eg -- look for "Bdale
    whipped out"

[1] http://www.uwsg.iu.edu/hypermail/linux/kernel/0305.0/1142.html

Anthony Towns <ajt@debian.org>
Debian Release Manager

Protect Open Source in Australia from over-reaching changes to IP law
http://www.petitiononline.com/auftaip/ & http://www.linux.org.au/fta/

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