So you are arguing that it is impossible for a driver to rely on a feature that is present only in specific versions of the firmware? Or that it is impossible that a driver might need a workaround for a bug that is present only in specific versions of the firmware?Of course those things are possible. And while userspace has an explicit exception from GPL 'infection', firmware does not.
Or are we talking past each other here?Perhaps. Sorry; I'm not entirely sure how to parse khim's post, or your response. The interesting question at the heart of the issue is whether the inclusion of the firmware is a violation of the GPL -- and you both seem to be either digressing or just losing me.
I thought we were all operating the assumption that the firmware is an independent and separate work in its own right. If it's not, then the issues are fairly clear-cut anyway -- the only interesting case for debate is where it's independent, isn't it? So having made that assumption, we have other options:
I'm planning to get us to situation #1 where we distribute the firmware separately. Currently, I believe us to be in situation #2, where we are violating the GPL.
There are those who believe that actually we are in situation #3 -- where we're excused by the "mere aggregation on a volume of a storage or distribution medium" clause, which covers things like CDs of gratis or shareware software which might be found on magazine covers. Personally, I don't see any way that clause can cover the combination of driver and firmware into a vmlinux, when each of them is useless without the other. It's a collective work and not just a happy coincidence that they're sitting together on the CD. But that's just my opinion, not a court ruling.
Shipping the firmware separately solves the probable GPL violation, while the work I've already done lets people continue to build arbitrary firmware blobs into the kernel if they really want to -- so it's not a regression for them. Normally we err on the side of caution when it comes to legal matters, and I see no reason why this should be the exception.
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