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GNU is Not Unix Software Hardware Technology

How Hardware Makers Come To Violate Free Software Licenses 186

Posted by timothy
from the they-were-hoping-to-ask-permission dept.
H4x0r Jim Duggan writes "Veteran violation chasers Shane Coughlan and Armijn Hemel have summarized how license violations are caused in the consumer electronics market under time-to-market pressure and thin profit margins: 'This problem is compounded when one board with a problem appears in devices supplied to a number of western companies. A host of violation reports spanning a dozen European and American businesses may eventually point towards a single mistake during development at an Asian supplier.' They also discuss the helpful organizations which have sprung up and the documents and procedures now available."
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How Hardware Makers Come to Violate Free Software Licenses

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  • like those DVDs (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Janek Kozicki (722688) on Friday September 25, 2009 @05:05AM (#29537467) Journal

    like those DVD players that used mplayer but didn't release mplayer's sourcecode?

    • Re:like those DVDs (Score:4, Interesting)

      by ObsessiveMathsFreak (773371) <{ten.mocrie} {ta} {kaerfshtamevissesbo}> on Friday September 25, 2009 @07:32AM (#29537943) Homepage Journal

      Hey. You weren't complaining when region free DVD players stopped honoring the "intellectual property" of the DVD content "owners".

      By the way, the players probably use the FFmpeg codecs and not mplayer itself, which lacks any real kind of gui. Speaking of which the FFmpeg codecs are themselves currently sitting under the Damocles sword of intellectual property in the for of the multitude of video codec patents. I doubt there's a single 30 line block of code in there that isn't violating someones patent.

      In conclusion, our current IP regime sucks. I for one applaud these hardware makers, particularly in Asia, for cutting this twisted Gordian knot and just loading up their devices will all the features they can download. In my opinion as producers of real tangible goods, they are morally, socially and economically justified in what they have done. If anyone wants to complain, they can just go ahead and make their own, real physical devices and bring them to market.

      • Re:like those DVDs (Score:4, Insightful)

        by jonbryce (703250) on Friday September 25, 2009 @07:59AM (#29538049) Homepage

        That's only a problem if you live in one of the tiny minority of countries that recognise software patents. Most countries however recognise copyrights in one form or another, though they differ in when the copyrights expire.

        • by tepples (727027)

          That's only a problem if you live in one of the tiny minority of countries that recognise software patents.

          Most major motion picture studios are headquartered in one of those countries. Yes, copyright != patent, but imagine the MPAA bankrolling MPEG-LA's crackdown on makers of DVD players that bend or break the standard licensing terms.

          • Ah, but that would be counterproductive as it would cut down the number of players out there that people are buying legitimate DVDs to play in them. The MPAA doesn't care what player you use to play their movies, just that the movies are purchased from them. What would be their (financial) motivation for cracking down on DVD player hardware?
            • by tepples (727027)

              that would be counterproductive as it would cut down the number of players out there that people are buying legitimate DVDs to play in them.

              If MPAA wanted its DVDs to be played on more players, it wouldn't region code any title that has completed its theatrical release cycle.

              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by Mister Whirly (964219)
                I think region codes are just a way of having a sliding price scale. They sell them for more where the market can bear it, and less where it can't.
                • by tepples (727027)

                  I think region codes are just a way of having a sliding price scale. They sell them for more where the market can bear it, and less where it can't.

                  If this were the case, then the version in the most expensive region would be mastered for All Regions.

            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by Sancho (17056)

              Different pricing in different regions. In some countries, they can get away with charging a lot more, so they do. If imports weren't prevented from playing through the use of region-coding, people in those countries could just import a cheaper version of the same DVD.

      • Re:like those DVDs (Score:5, Insightful)

        by langelgjm (860756) on Friday September 25, 2009 @08:00AM (#29538053) Journal

        Hey. You weren't complaining when region free DVD players stopped honoring the "intellectual property" of the DVD content "owners".

        Region codes don't have anything to do with honoring or not honoring intellectual property of DVD content producers. They are technological measures designed to segment the market so that producers can price discriminate more easily. The only reason they would be related to copyright law is because they can also be construed as a copy protection measure, and circumventing that is a violation of the DMCA. As everyone around here should know, it's entirely possible to violate the DMCA without actually infringing copyrights.

        If region-free DVD players are illegal, it would only be because the manufacturers of such players signed on to the DVD spec and didn't abide by it, or because they never signed on to the spec in the first place and are perhaps infringing on patents that the DVD Forum allows its members to use. That's a problem for the DVD Forum and its rivals to sort out, and doesn't really have to do with the content on the DVD so much as the licensing agreement surrounding the DVD spec.

        • Re:like those DVDs (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Enter the Shoggoth (1362079) on Friday September 25, 2009 @09:03AM (#29538547)

          Hey. You weren't complaining when region free DVD players stopped honoring the "intellectual property" of the DVD content "owners".

          Region codes don't have anything to do with honoring or not honoring intellectual property of DVD content producers. They are technological measures designed to segment the market so that producers can price discriminate more easily. The only reason they would be related to copyright law is because they can also be construed as a copy protection measure, and circumventing that is a violation of the DMCA. As everyone around here should know, it's entirely possible to violate the DMCA without actually infringing copyrights.

          If region-free DVD players are illegal, it would only be because the manufacturers of such players signed on to the DVD spec and didn't abide by it, or because they never signed on to the spec in the first place and are perhaps infringing on patents that the DVD Forum allows its members to use. That's a problem for the DVD Forum and its rivals to sort out, and doesn't really have to do with the content on the DVD so much as the licensing agreement surrounding the DVD spec.

          The whole thing with region-coding is laughable anyway. Region coding was found to be illegal under Australian anti-competition laws yet every major electronics chain still stocks dozens of infringing units from Sony, Panasonic, Toshiba, etc. al. And just about every DVD sold here is region encoded.

          The authorities have not brought a single case against any of the multinationals.

          Yet another data-point that shows so called "Intellectual Property" laws are about one thing and one thing alone: protecting the interests of large corporations over those of both the producers and the consumers of content.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by malkavian (9512)

        Yes. Socially laudable. However, they're big business that will use exactly the laws they're ignoring to ride someone else into the ground when it suits them.
        Should Copyright and Patent law become sane (i.e. all this becomes legal), then they lose a lot of the 'rights' under law that they currently want to keep.
        Interestingly, what DVD players don't honour the intellectual property of content holders? Again, the content providers are playing dirty; they use labour from a worldwide market, yet arbitrarily

      • I doubt there's a single 30 line block of code anywhere that isn't violating someones patent.

        TFTFY

  • by stiggle (649614) on Friday September 25, 2009 @05:32AM (#29537525)

    Many of the chipset SDK suppliers don't tell their customers of their obligations to provide the source when requested by a customer.
    So while the hardware manufacturer might be at fault, its the chipset maker who is more often the failure.

    Cisco/Linksys using Broadcom chipsets. Did Broadcom tell them about using Linux & their obligation under the GPL to release the code.
    Humax with their PVR - now they're less reliant on the chipset as the Cisco situation so are more at fault for not releasing the code when asked.

    • Why should the customers of the SDK have such an obligation?

      Suppose I am computer vendor C. I purchase motherboards from manufacturer B, who uses a network chip from manufacturer A. With the chip, company A provides a SDK that uses some open source. Company B uses that in creating their BIOS and device drivers. I use that device driver in the setup program that I supply with my computer.

      Now, why should I provide any sources? The code I write is proprietary. Certainly the code that company A used and m
  • To protect its IP, the CE company that I work for does not allow the use of GPL or LGPL code in production software. It's a good thing that Linux system calls are excepted from the normal GPL rules, otherwise we wouldn't have seen its massive success in embedded devices.
    • by HonIsCool (720634)
      In what way are Linux system calls "excepted from the normal GPL rules"?
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Aim Here (765712)

        They're not.

        What the GP probably refers to is that the Linux copyright file does state that normal use of Linux system calls does not create a derivative work per copyright law. That's more in line with a clarification than an exemption - in that Richard Stallman would agree with it.

        (If there are exemptions from 'Normal GPL rules' in Linux, it's in the nature of the allowances the kernel devs have for nonGPled kernel modules, such as the ATI/Nvidia blobs, where it's all a big legal can of worms as to what i

      • by jedidiah (1196)

        The Linux userland is LGPL, not GPL.

        This what allows Oracle to run on top of Linux as a commercial closed source product.

    • It's a good thing that Linux system calls are excepted from the normal GPL rules, otherwise we wouldn't have seen its massive success in embedded devices.

      Could you elaborate on the "normal GPL rules" regarding syscalls? Because I'm not seeing why any exception would be needed. Has this been hashed out somewhere before?

      (My thinking is: yes, user code can call kernel functions through a binary interface, which is similar to linking, but it's not *really* linked to the kernel; the same binary program could run on a BSD kernel too. I fail to see how syscalls would be any different than a GPL and non-GPL program communicating through SysV IPC shared memory.

      • by Rogerborg (306625)
        Look, it's perfectly simple. If you compile in headers, then by the plain language of the license, you've created a derivative work. Any suggestion that you haven't done so is extrinsic to the license.
        • by HonIsCool (720634)
          A license does not decide whether a work is derivative; copyright law does. "Compiling in" a header file is also vague. If all the header file does it to declare an interface, it is difficult to "compile in" any code to derive from. Unless one wants that adhering to an interface is equal to creating derivative work. Then, presuably, one finds a good friend in Darl McBride et al, and supports the notion that Linux is a derivative work of Unix.
          • by Rogerborg (306625)

            Fair point about derivative works, but that's still extrinsic to the license, and you'd have to pay a lawyer to prove it. Ask IBM.

            "Compiling in" is not vague at all though, at least in the context of a C/C++ compiler. "Header files" have no meaning to the compiler - it's all just source, regardless of which top level module caused it to be included verbatim. [citation [strlen.com]]

            • "Compiling in" is not vague at all though, at least in the context of a C/C++ compiler. "Header files" have no meaning to the compiler - it's all just source, regardless of which top level module caused it to be included verbatim.

              Right, but does a header file containing only constant declaration and forward declarations constitute "compiling in"? E.g. "extern int strlen(char * str);" vs "int strlen(char * str) { ... function code ... }". The latter case is clearly "compiled in", as in two modules including a header file that contained the implementation would each put the implementation in their respective .o/.obj file, which would (usually) cause the link to fail due to duplicate functions. However, the former case to me is NOT

            • It depends a lot on the contents of the header. If all that the header does is define an interface, then it can not be copyrighted (in the USA). You can, however, copyright an expression of an interface. This is where it gets muddy. If the header contains macros and static / inline functions that are included into the final product, then it can be classed as a derived work (but it might not be). If you are using a language like C++, which puts a lot of the implementation detail into the headers, then i
    • by taniwha (70410) on Friday September 25, 2009 @07:35AM (#29537957) Homepage Journal

      the last 2 places I've worked at we've used it all the time - we're careful about how we partition code and we publish source when required and we blow patches back to the various projects if it makes sense for them (after all we win in the end).

      It's not hard to comply if you build it in to your planning from the start

      • by PitaBred (632671)
        Mind naming names? I like supporting companies that are responsible like that, if I have need for their products.
  • So does this mean that WE finally have THEM by the balls?

    It would be nice for the OS community to serve back what it's been receiving. I'm thinking
    of the patent trolls, copyright oppression, DCMA takedown notices and the like.

  • The reason why they "violate" is because they just do not care.

    It has nothing to do with deadlines or politics or competition or margins.

    The code they are using is seen as "some free stuff I downloaded which happens to work - cool for me".

    The point of a company is to make money, not to further ethical causes. If it doesn't SEEM like a massive no-no I don't think it would enter the head of even one person in this supply chain to question it. And by the time anyone does, its already 3 generations of products

    • by Nursie (632944) on Friday September 25, 2009 @07:10AM (#29537853)

      Ah, the BSD troll.

      There have been a lot of cases (the linksys modding scene for instance) in which the lack of GPL would have meant no release of source or tools. There are a variety of other examples.

      I also don't believe for a second that linux would have got where it is today, with multiple big-name companies supporting it and contributing to it if they had not been forced to reopen their changes.

      Thirdly, lots of people don't like the idea of contributing to a project which can then be swept up and used by commercial entities without them being made to have the courtesy to contribute back.

      At this point BSD is basically an also-ran. Great project, great OS I'm sure, but not on the same level as linux or supported in anything like the same way in terms of FOSS and commercial software. At least a some of this is down to the environment created by the differing licenses.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by AbbeyRoad (198852)

        Linux is not a religion you moron.

        I have ALL OSs installed because I need to port software to ALL OSs.
        This means Linux, Mac, WindowsXP/64/03/08, Solaris, FreeBSD, etc. etc.

        There is nothing huge to distinguish any of these systems from each other.

        They are ALL crap in their own way.

        The only difference is in their Pundits: Linux people think that are
        knights of some kind of OS crusade. They don't know it, but they
        are marketing people employed by RedHat and IBM - employed
        WITHOUT PAY that is.

        Come to think - there

        • by Nursie (632944)

          "Linux pundits represent meaninglessness in its worst form -
          they don't contribute source code, they don't earn money off it,
          they don't do Linux support, they only spend money on games."

          I do all of those things, except *only* spending money on games, but I do spend money on games.

          Next unfounded rant please.

        • by Sir_Lewk (967686)

          The only difference is in their Pundits: Linux people think that are knights of some kind of OS crusade.

          Says the BSD troll. Try looking in the mirror for once.

      • I don't know about an also ran. Our entire infrastructure is BSD based from the routers (Juniper) to our web servers (FreeBSD) to the database servers running PostgreSQL (FreeBSD & OpenBSD). We're now working on an embedded low powered version of one of our products and testing both NetBSD and FreeBSD depending on whether the final product is ARM or x86 based. And we're doing that expressly because license compliance vs. GPL is something we just don't have to worry about. Given the number of other t

    • by smoker2 (750216)
      Why don't they use *BSD code then ? And it's not YOUR principle, it's the principle written in the licence. So again, why don't they use *BSD code ? Surely the only sensible answer is that they don't even read the licence. they don't care. Yet if it's their code that gets reused there is usually hell to pay.
      • >Why don't they use *BSD code then ?

        There is no BSD licensed multimedia player with equal or better qualities as ffmpeg.

    • FreeBSD benefits enormously from user contributions (both commercial and hobbiest), yet has no requirement to make changes public.

      This is basically the difference between a nonprofit and a business. FreeBSD asks for charity and sometimes companies give them code, because it gets them goodwill and is occasionally beneficial for the companies to make sure others have what they're giving away.

      The GPL is not a charity. They offer code in exchange for the promise of other code. If you want to use their code, you have to pay by releasing any changes.

      So by analogy, your argument boils down to a belief that people will give to charity, so the

      • by petrus4 (213815)

        The GPL is not a charity.

        They offer code in exchange for the promise of other code.

        In other words, the BSD is a vastly morally superior license, and of the two, is a far more pure manifestation of the older hacker gift culture.

        I already knew that, but thanks for clearing it up for our viewers at home. ;)

        • In other words, the BSD is a vastly morally superior license, and of the two, is a far more pure manifestation of the older hacker gift culture.

          People have morals; licenses do not. Picking a license is usually not a moral or ethical choice, it's a business decision. Is it always morally superior to give without asking something in return? I say no. For example, is giving poison to children more moral than giving them $100 in exchange for a promise to read an educational book?

          Generally the people picking a license these days are businesses, who do most OSS development. A large number of these companies use multiple licenses. For example, if you're c

        • by Nursie (632944)

          Morally superior. Cute.

          Is it morally superior to just give money away to whoever asks or to put it towards something that will definitely continue to do the public good, ensuring that those that gain advantage from it also help?

          You're a zealot.
           

          • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

            by petrus4 (213815)

            Is it morally superior to just give money away to whoever asks or to put it towards something that will definitely continue to do the public good, ensuring that those that gain advantage from it also help?

            This is the FSF's standard rhetoric for justifying copyleft, to which I will give my own standard response. The enforcement of reciprocity is motivated by anti-corporate hate, fear, and paranoia. These are not emotions which form a sound basis for anything positive.

            If you doubt that these emotions dictate almost all of the FSF's behaviour, all you really need to do is look around. Said emotions are blatantly obvious in virtually everything the organisation does.

            The BSD license represents a gift which mak

    • by dkleinsc (563838)

      The point of a company is to make money, not to further ethical causes.

      Companies are bound by the rule of law. That's why GE doesn't have a division responsible for selling crack despite the high profitability of that market.

      The reason why they "violate" is because they just do not care.

      There's an easy way to make the companies care about OSS license violations: the C&D letter (followed by the appropriate legal action if they don't comply). It's been held up in the cases where it's gone to court. The FSF has a portion of their organization devoted to doing just that sort of wrangling.

      Ultimately, you need to also ask if it really matters at all. How often do you think this provided source code is really going to be useful to a mass audience?

      Absolutely it matters. And yes the code can be usef

    • by 7-Vodka (195504)

      BSD is where it is BECAUSE of GNU, Linux and the GPL. It's called "Riding the Coat Tails".
      First look at all of the GNU tools which make up BSD. Right there that should tell you that you've got a big blindspot in your argument. BSD is not BSD without GPL.

      Now consider this, BSD is also getting a huge boost from the fact that it's so easy to port software from Linux. How much software is written for BSD and then ported to Linux? None. How much software is written for Linux then ported to BSD? All of it.

      • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

        by petrus4 (213815)

        BSD is where it is BECAUSE of GNU, Linux and the GPL. It's called "Riding the Coat Tails". First look at all of the GNU tools which make up BSD.

        FreeBSD uses gcc, binutils, grep, tar, and maybe sed. That's it. Everything else in terms of both the core toolchain and textutils is their own version, and BSD versions of utilities required by the Single UNIX Specification are still maintained, that there are no GNU equivalents of. BSD also has its' own internal make; pmake with FreeBSD, and bmake for NetBSD/pkgsrc.

        FreeBSD also actually uses the most GNU stuff. NetBSD has its' own port of tar, and OpenBSD has its' own ports of sed and grep. Porting O

  • by Hurricane78 (562437) <.gro.todhsals. .ta. .deteled.> on Friday September 25, 2009 @07:55AM (#29538033)

    ...that those companies usually did not intend to break the license in a bad way. After all there's next to no cost in doing it the right way.

    So please contact them in a friendly way, and remind them that the rules to get this software for free, is that you have to continue letting others getting it for free. In case of the GPL, even if you modified it. If they don't want that, which is also OK, they have to use another, possibly commercial, product. Or perhaps BSD (which, when you look at Windows, works also well).
    But remind them, that the reason they can actually get it free, is that others gave their code away for free. If everybody would do it like them, and not give away the code, then nobody, including themselves, could get any free software anymore.

    Only if they then ignore you, and deliberately continue to do it, sue the hell outta them with no mercy whatsoever.

    Sun Tzu already recommended this strategy in the 6th century BC, in his book "The Art Of War [wikipedia.org]".

    • by jim_v2000 (818799)
      "If everybody would do it like them, and not give away the code, then nobody, including themselves, could get any free software anymore."

      There's plenty of free software out there that I can't get the code for. What you mean is there would be no open software.
  • For years Harald Welte has been the only serious chaser [gpl-violations.org] I know of. These two have been keeping their work a secret, I guess. More power to them if they're actually tracking down GPL violators, whoever they are. This task is thankless and unappreciated. Most authors can't be bothered.

    • For years Harald Welte has been the only serious chaser [gpl-violations.org] I know of.

      As you can read on the About page [gpl-violations.org], one of the authors of this article, Armijn Hemel, is actually the other half of the gpl-violations.org core team.

  • by malevolentjelly (1057140) on Friday September 25, 2009 @10:16AM (#29539235) Journal

    Every western company has to step carefully around the Chinese market. If you're working on a proprietary product, you NEVER license source over there. If a Chinese company decides to rip you off, you've got no recourse.

    When you sell software in China, no matter what type, you can only sell a single seat license-- they will break your protection and run it on a hundred.

    China's government protects its companies from fair business practices, anyway. Many of the malicious hacks that come from the Chinese government are purely economical- just stealing plans, prototypes, and source code from prominent western businesses.

    So, good luck, guys. If these big powerful multinational companies can't get China to pay for what they do to our IP market, I'm not sure what you GPL folks can do. They will say anything they need to say to avoid respecting your license.

  • If I contract Company X to provide me with component Y, and I go about my business, all is fine. If Company X stole Y from a third party Z, Z sues myself and X. In all likelihood, some degree of damages gets awarded (ignoring that if Z is small, we simply run out their legal budget and then sue them for a frivolous case), and X has to pay for their damages, and I have to pay. Very rarely will an injunction be issued to stop me from doing business, as the courts will assume that compensation will work. I

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