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Firmware distribution

Firmware distribution

Posted Jun 7, 2008 16:32 UTC (Sat) by jake (editor, #205)
In reply to: Firmware distribution by giraffedata
Parent article: Moving the firmware out

> The article implied that there are hardware vendors who don't want their
> firmware distributed with the Linux kernel, but would be OK with it being
> distributed in a package which is copyright-licensed more liberally.

The lkml thread seems to indicate there are some hardware vendors who are unwilling to let
their firmware be distributed with the kernel.  Perhaps they are concerned (rightly or
wrongly) that allowing that would subject _their_ code to the GPL.


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Firmware distribution

Posted Jun 15, 2008 11:12 UTC (Sun) by Duncan (guest, #6647) [Link]

This would, from my (non-lawyer) understanding, be correct.  At least as I 
understand US law (other nations may be different), it would be impossible 
to force them to reveal sources, since you can't do that with someone 
else's code.  However...

It's entirely possible, even probable given enough time and the hair 
brained legal theories some come up with (the GPL is an anti-trust 
violation, riiiggghhttt, glad the Judge thought the same and threw out 
that case), that someone (say a competitor) claiming copyright interest in 
the kernel might decide to try to force the code out of these people based 
on it shipping with the kernel for so long.  As I said above, according to 
my understanding and by US law at least, that wouldn't be possible.  
However, should someone get the hair-brained idea to try it, given the 
right circumstances (see SCO), it could drag out forever, costing the 
hardware company in question all sorts of money it would certainly rather 
be spending elsewhere.  Not everyone has the resources of an IBM.

Thus, while it shouldn't be a legal danger in the end, it's enough of an 
economic risk thru exposure to simple legal threat, even if ultimately 
unsuccessful, that I can easily see a company's accountants and lawyers 
combining to veto any permission to ship firmware with the kernel.

But separate it into a non-GPL entangled tarball, and the legal threat 
gets much less.

All that said, the threat is really the reverse, as explained by others, 
that a SCO could ultimately hold the kernel (at least current and past 
shipping and supported versions, and thus everyone using them) hostage, 
with things as-is, due to the "if you can't ship it and comply, you can't 
ship it" wording), not anyone doing any more than tying up a few legal 
resources up for awhile trying to get the code out of the firmware folks.  
Thus, while it may be a bit of an economic risk for the firmware folks, 
it's a SERIOUS risk for those depending on the kernel, all the more reason 
to get the separation done as expeditiously as possible.  I'm glad 
someone's now attacking the issue, as it /is/ a danger, there are SCOs in 
the world, and as such, it needed addressed.


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