GPL modules for a differently licensed OS'
Posted Sep 5, 2007 19:55 UTC (Wed) by madscientist
In reply to: GPL modules for a differently licensed OS'
Parent article: Relicensing: what's legal and what's right
Yes, I see your point. I think the answer is that as long as you only ship the OS, then you're fine because the entirety of the OS doesn't contain any (is not derived from) GPL'd code. However, you would not be able to distribute both together because the combined work would contain GPL'd code. Then the question becomes, what if you get the GPL'd driver from somewhere else, not from the OS vendor? Then they OS vendor is not distributing GPL'd code, and the GPL ONLY deals with distribution, not use: you can use GPL'd code any way you want personally without any requirements. The answer here depends on the license the OS was under: if the license was not compatible with the GPL then the answer probably is that whomever distributed the driver to you was doing something illegal, because the driver is a derived work of the OS (even if they weren't shipped together) and there's no way to distribute code that satisfies both licenses. If the OS was under a GPL-compatible license such as the BSD license, then I don't see any problem with that. BUT, I don't think it can be provided as a standard part of the base OS, without the entire thing coming under the GPL. However, like you, IANAL.
As for your other points: first, I was careful to say the _virtual_ runtime image; I don't think the FSF is speaking of physical memory here. If they were then, ultimately, all software shares physical memory. And in this way, I don't think the kernel's license will impact the licensing of the program the kernel runs, because the kernel is not in the virtual image; it just has access to it. So I don't think the fact that the kernel manages the program's memory is a problem.
Of course, almost every possible program WILL interact with the kernel, through kernel system calls. It could be argued that because of this, every user space program is derived from the kernel. However, regardless of whether you think this is reasonable or not, Linus has made it moot as he has explicitly stated that he doesn't believe that using the user space system call interface brings software under the GPL.
In fact, it is even possible to create kernel modules, that run in kernel space, with licenses that are not compatible with the GPL. There is a certain set of module API interfaces which are explicitly marked as being able to be used this way. Here we get REALLY murky because not even all Linux kernel devs, as far as I've seen, really agree on exactly what this means and how it works.
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