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Re: [gNewSense-users] Copyright, but no license: Free or not?

From: Sam Geeraerts
Subject: Re: [gNewSense-users] Copyright, but no license: Free or not?
Date: Wed, 03 Dec 2008 22:44:05 +0100
User-agent: Mozilla-Thunderbird (X11/20080509)

Matthew J. Fisher wrote:
Here's the thread in which RMS replied to my previous post.

On Tue, 2008-12-02 at 11:02 -0500, Richard M Stallman wrote:
    Up to this point it looks like kfv volunteers have marked such files as
    "No license, so assumed to be GPLv2". Now we may have to report them as
    freedom bugs -- and re-check sections which were previously certified

That's whaty I think.

    I'll wait a reality check before starting to file bug reports.

I do not understand.  What is the "reality check" that you're
waiting for, and who is doing it?

... and here is where we get to the reality check.

What does the gNewSense users list think? Do we have any clear basis on
which to argue that copyrighted, unlicensed files within the gNewSense
kernel are free?
For example, are files copyrighted by Linus Torvalds clearly free since
the kernel as a whole is released by him under GPLv2? What about other
contributors, like the copyright holders for  arch/x86/ia32/sys-ia32.c:

* Copyright (C) 2000            VA Linux Co
* Copyright (C) 2000            Don Dugger <address@hidden>
* Copyright (C) 1999            Arun Sharma <address@hidden>
* Copyright (C) 1997,1998       Jakub Jelinek (address@hidden)
* Copyright (C) 1997            David S. Miller (address@hidden)
* Copyright (C) 2000            Hewlett-Packard Co.
* Copyright (C) 2000            David Mosberger-Tang <address@hidden>
* Copyright (C) 2000,2001,2002 Andi Kleen, SuSE Labs (x86-64 port)
So far we _considered_ unlicensed files to be GPLv2 under the _assumption_ that contributors to Linux know about it's license and that Linus would not accept code which he knows is incompatibly licensed and of course the confirmation Marco already got from the FSF.

On the other hand, considering the blobs in the kernel, it could be that those contributors don't really care about the license or that Linus didn't bother to ask them to specify or (probably) both.

Strictly speaking, it's very likely that those files don't fall under a free license without an explicit notice or reference to COPYING. However, I think very few of those files (if any) are meant to have a license that is incompatible with the GPLv2. If it really is an issue I'm surprised it hasn't come up on the kernel mailing list or debian-legal yet (at least, I didn't find anything).

If we do have to file bugs, and the rate at which I've found them in
arch/x86 applies to the entire kernel, then we're talking about
approximately 8,000 kernel freedom bug reports for copyrighted but
unlicensed files. I don't know if this concern also applies to
previously certified packages in main -- but it could.

So far we have concentrated on blobs and I suggest we keep it that way unless this turns out to be a huge issue. Thanks to the use of Emacs PFV mode it's probably not too hard to remove a lot of the allegedly offending files, but I fear there won't be much of a usable kernel left after that.

Anyway, I think this issue is important enough to add to the GPL FAQ [1] once it is resolved.


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