examined the dispute with the
A couple of weeks ago, LWN
over the copyright notices placed in (and removed from)
the versions of
the Atheros wireless network driver intended for eventual merging into the
mainline Linux kernel. At that time, the files with the improperly removed
license text had never made it anywhere near the mainline repository and an
effort was being made to fix the problem. It really seemed like the whole
issue should end then.
So why does a perusal of the OpenBSD lists (and, often, unfortunately,
linux-kernel as well) turn up gems like these?
The rights and recognition of one of our own developers (reyk@)
have been molested, and all we've done as a community is to
participate in useless flames and blog postings. Theo has thrown
himself, once again, against the spears of the Linux community and
their legal vultures in order to protect our software freedoms.
How many of us can say we've done our part to defend truly Free
-- Jason Dixon
In the case of Ryek's [sic] code, the reverse is true but instead of
admitting the mistake and making the needed corrections, FSF has
pulled out their lawyers in hopes of getting away with the
theft. All of this is being done *intentionally* in hopes that no
one will put up a fight.
-- J.C. Roberts
I am really disappointed by all this. I would have expected that
once such a patch is suggested (let alone being committed to some
public place) some senior/respected/responsible Linux person would
tell them what they are doing is wrong. Right from the start. I
now see this is not how things work around here.
-- Can E. Acar
One might well think that the whole issue is still open. In fact, much of
the dispute has gone by the wayside. The files with the improperly removed
copyright notices never were going to make it to the mainline. The
allegations by Theo de Raadt that taking a dual-license notice at its word
was illegal have been pretty well laughed off; the OpenBSD camp is no longer
asserting that claim. In fact, there is really only one point of dispute
- The OpenBSD developers do not believe that developers Nick
Kossifidis and Jiri Slaby should have added their own copyright attributions
to the file ath5k_hw.c. Those two developers, it is claimed,
have not done enough work on that file to have earned any copyright
For this offense, the OpenBSD community continues to flame, threaten
lawsuits, and more. It seems that the developers named above should simply
add some original haiku to the opening comments so that their right to
claim copyright to portions of the file would be indisputable. Even in the
absence of bad poetry, these developers have done some small amount of work
and will certainly do more to get the code ready for Linux inclusion.
Threatening legal action as a way of keeping them from adding their own
attribution to the file seems gratuitous.
Part of what is going on here may be a simple culture clash. It seems
that, in the BSD world, the adding of a copyright attribution to a file is
done with the permission of the existing copyright holders. For a developer to
just patch an attribution can come across as being a bit rude. In the
Linux community, instead, developers simply add a copyright if they feel
they have done enough work to justify it. It is hard to come up with cases
where these attributions have gone in without merit.
Eben Moglen's one public contribution to
this conversation includes this paragraph:
We understand that attribution issues are critically important to
free software developers; we are accustomed to the strong feelings
that are involved in such situations. In the fifteen years I have
spent giving free legal help to developers throughout the
community, attribution disputes have been, always, the most
That is clearly what is going on here - this discussion is certainly
happening on a strongly emotional level. But it must be said that the most
harsh language seems to be flowing in one direction: from OpenBSD toward
Linux. This was also true when the situation was reversed and
an OpenBSD developer was found to have improperly relicensed some Linux
code. In both cases (and in others) there is a clear sense that the
OpenBSD people feel wronged by Linux.
One might well wonder why this is the case.
To an extent, OpenBSD developers may be following the tone set by that
project's leader. They may be irritated by the licensing asymmetry:
BSD-licensed code can be incorporated into a GPL-licensed project, but GPL-licensed code
cannot be brought into a BSD-licensed project. Or perhaps they feel that
their system has been unfairly upstaged by an inferior rival. Whatever the
reason, there is a certain hostility emanating from that camp which is
unpleasant to see.
It would be a mistake, however, to let the public flaming obscure the fact
that Linux and the BSD variants have much in common. There is certainly no
shortage of Linux proponents whose "advocacy" makes our community look
bad. BSD will have people like that too. Meanwhile, behind the scenes,
there is a great deal of good will, information, and code which flows in
both directions. We are all working toward the same ends, and there are
plenty of places where we can learn from the BSD communities. This
incident will pass, and hot heads will cool - before, undoubtedly, heating
up again on a different topic - but, through it all, free software will
just continue to get better.
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