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Do Build Environments Give Companies an End Run Around the GPL? 374

Posted by timothy
from the technical-compliance dept.
Malvineous writes "I have two devices, from two different companies (who shall remain nameless, but both are very large and well-known) which run Linux-based firmware. The companies release all their source code to comply with the GPL, but neither includes a build environment or firmware utilities with the code. This means that if you want to alter the free software on the device, you can't — there is no way to build a firmware image or install it on the devices in question, effectively rendering the source code useless. I have approached the companies directly and while one of them acknowledges that it is not fully GPL-compliant, due to other license restrictions it cannot make the build environment public, and the company does not have the resources to rewrite it. I have approached the FSF but its limited resources are tied up pursuing more blatant violations (where no code at all is being released.) Meanwhile I am stuck with two devices that only work with Internet Explorer, and although I have the skills to rewrite each web interface, I have no way of getting my code running on the devices themselves. Have these companies found a convenient way to use GPL code, whilst preventing their customers from doing the same?"
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Do Build Environments Give Companies an End Run Around the GPL?

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  • by postbigbang (761081) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @05:39PM (#32317226)

    so we can vilify them, castigate them, and otherwise snark.

    • by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Sunday May 23, 2010 @05:44PM (#32317290) Homepage Journal

      As if we don't know it's Cisco.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Do we? I've never seen a cisco or linksys device you could't load custom firmware onto.

        • by Mathinker (909784) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @06:25PM (#32317588) Journal

          After getting the "our developers are working on it" runaround for months and months when Linksys didn't issue new drivers without the Broadcom vulnerability for my WPC54G v.4 adapter [linksysbycisco.com], rendering it totally useless, I decided to never, never, again buy Linksys equipment.

          So you might be right that the firmware of the Linksys device I bought was upgradable, but that's useless if you have no way to make custom firmware and the vendor doesn't issue bug fixes for its original firmware.

      • by A Commentor (459578) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @09:04PM (#32318762) Homepage
        Netgear had the same problem. It was probably about 4-5 years ago, they had a nice router that ran Linux and had a USB port for supporting a harddrive. I saw that Netgear provide the source, I emailed their open source person, and he was providing the things I ask for. I ended up picking up the router during one of Fry's sales and thought I was all set to build my own firmware. I attempted to build the new firmware, everything completed successfully, but I couldn't find the firmware to install. I emailed netgear again, the response was along the lines of: "Oh no, you can't build the firmware image, we don't give out that tool, and also our html pages are copyrighted, so you couldn't put that in the firmware anyway." As others have stated, this is what TIVO did and why GPL v3 was created. With GPL v2, it would be a much harder fight to win, and again it would need to be the copyright holders of the software, who need to file suit, not the customer.
        • Copyright: non-issue (Score:3, Informative)

          by DrYak (748999)

          so you couldn't put that in the firmware anyway.

          This is actually a non issue, as you already have a licensed copy in your current firmware (which you could obtain either with the "backup old firware before flashing" option, or get it straight from Netgear's firmware repository).

          The problem will only arise if you decide to publish your upgraded firmware on the net: you could only distribute the GPL bits, not the proprietary ones. There are 2 legal way to do then :

          - Provide a small utility to save the proprietary part out of a legal copy, and the final use

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Got stuck in exactly the same situation: Panasonic TX-P46G15E TV admits using (L)GPL code in their system menu and points to http://www.am-linux.jp/dl/EUIDTV7/ However no utility or script to install modified firmware. I asked gpl-violations.org to help but without hard proof that TV runs Linux they didn't pursue further (even though Panasonic admits using (L)GPL software in system menu and user manual as well).

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Mr. Freeman (933986)
      Without names there isn't a whole lot anyone can do. All of this "Some companies are violating the GPL/the law/doing unethical things but I'm not going to name them because for some stupid reason I feel I should respect them" isn't doing anyone any good... except for the companies causing the problems.

      For the free market to work, information like this has to be made available. If people know which companies are doing bad things then people will stop buying products from those companies and the companies w
  • Find an author (Score:5, Informative)

    by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Sunday May 23, 2010 @05:39PM (#32317232) Homepage Journal

    For an executable work, complete source code means all the source code for all modules it contains, plus any associated interface definition files, plus the scripts used to control compilation and installation of the executable.

    http://www.gnu.org/licenses/gpl-2.0.html [gnu.org]

    It's a straight up violation. Go find the author of the software... any author of any part of the software will do.. and invite them to sue the manufacturer. Direct them to the Software Freedom Law Center.

    • However, as a special exception, the source code distributed need not include anything that is normally distributed (in either source or binary form) with the major components (compiler, kernel, and so on) of the operating system on which the executable runs, unless that component itself accompanies the executable.

      (from same link)

      If the compiler is a special case then you have a problem there. If the target device is some special dedicated OS, it all comes under this exception? Notice that they do not require to release the compiler (unless is was adapted for this target).

      Also remember a term called Tivoization [wikipedia.org]. You are starting the same discussion all over again.

      But they are missing the largeste advantage of the GPL. They can have free mod version and bug fixes if they release their complete environment.

    • Re:Find an author (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Xtifr (1323) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @06:08PM (#32317448) Homepage

      Direct them to the Software Freedom Law Center.

      Indeed, it's worth another reminder that the FSF is not in the job of policing GPL abuse. They publish the license for others to use, but they're only going to (only can) try to enforce it for code they actually own. Asking the FSF to intervene in a random GPL case is sort of like asking the printers to intervene in a dispute between you and your car lease company, simply because they printed the lease forms.

      Furthermore, while the GPL is intended to grant freedoms to you and other third parties, it is, by the fact that it leverages existing laws, difficult for a third party to enforce. It's easy to imagine the following dialog:

      You: They won't give me all the code as required by the license.
      Them: The license itself says its not mandatory and we don't have to accept it.
      You: It also says that if you don't accept it, then normal copyright law applies, and they don't have permission to use the code.
      Them: That's as may be, but you have no standing to sue us over the copyrights.
      Judge: Agreed, case dismissed.

      Of course, this means that they will have more-or-less admitted to copyright violation in open court, which is a pretty risky strategy, but suddenly, you're out a bunch of money and facing a dead end. Better, as QuantumG suggested, to get ahold of the copyright holders up front.

  • GPLv3 (Score:5, Informative)

    by selven (1556643) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @05:41PM (#32317252)

    The loophole being proposed is just a variant of Tivoization. And the GPLv3 already fixes it, and anything else that gives out source while not giving you everything you need to build it.

    • Re: (Score:2, Redundant)

      Mod parent up. He is 100% correct.

    • Re:GPLv3 (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Brave Guy (457657) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @06:51PM (#32317792)

      And the GPLv3 already fixes it, and anything else that gives out source while not giving you everything you need to build it.

      Which may explain the almost complete absence of GPLv3 code in the software world.

      In the embedded world, for example, your chances of getting permission to release the specs for any major chip to meet these requirements to the letter are probably zero. Several of the major players in the industry design chips but outsource the manufacture, and the whole ecosystem is so locked down under NDAs that anyone trying to get detailed specs out in public would wish it was only Microsoft's entire legal team suing them. That means GPLv3 software is basically useless in most of the embedded development world.

      Much the same probably applies to systems software, so many of those working on OSS operating systems, device drivers, etc. are similarly unable to work with GPLv3 code.

      The original GPL was a reasonable idea and made a lot of sense to a lot of people. GPLv3 is RMS and co's attempt to turn that popularity into a vehicle for their minority views on software development, and I guess we can see now how little of the community's support of the GPL was really down to believing in the FSF's political stance, and how much was just pragmatism.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by yuhong (1378501)
        Luckily, I don't think that the GPLv3 actually require what you are talking about, nor do I think it was the intent of the GPLv3 to do this.
      • 2 can play at that game.

        Enjoy this. [xkcd.com]

      • Re:GPLv3 (Score:4, Insightful)

        by koiransuklaa (1502579) on Monday May 24, 2010 @04:54AM (#32321088)

        The original GPL was a reasonable idea and made a lot of sense to a lot of people. GPLv3 is RMS and co's attempt to turn that popularity into a vehicle for their minority views on software development, and I guess we can see now how little of the community's support of the GPL was really down to believing in the FSF's political stance, and how much was just pragmatism.

        I think that's slightly revisionist.

        RMS's ideas have pretty much always been originally minority views that people have tried to label as unpragmatic (and even laughed at). In time surprisingly many of those views have become "reasonable" and "mainstream" -- and it wasn't RMS who changed his mind.

        The guy may be nuts, but he's a visionary -- his track record at defining a long term vision and seeing it come true pretty much beats anyone else in the industry. This will remain so whether in ten years GPLv3 turns out to become "reasonable" according to the rest of the industry or not.

      • Re:GPLv3 (Score:5, Insightful)

        by wrook (134116) on Monday May 24, 2010 @05:02AM (#32321116) Homepage

        This has got to be the craziest post I've seen in a long time.

        Last summer CNet reported that 50% of GPL projects hosted by google code were GPLv3. That works out to at least 56,000 projects. http://news.cnet.com/8301-13505_3-10294452-16.html [cnet.com] This information took me 30 seconds to find on google. Before making wild ass comments, please do some research.

        Now, you may have meant that GPLv3 code is rare on embedded devices. This may very well be true. But at least look up the numbers and tell us what they are rather than making outrageous comments backed up by nothing.

        Also asserting that RMS is trying to capitalize on the popularity of the GPL to ram home his minority views is completely ridiculous. The GPL has ALWAYS been his vehicle for ramming home his minority views. Did you honestly think the GPL was popular when it was first released???? RMS and the GPL popularized these ideas in the first place. v2 isn't working exactly the way he wanted it to, so he changed it. What kind of warped view of the world do you have to have to think this is unreasonable?

        Finally, if industry is accepting the GPL because it is pragmatic, then that is a good thing. I'm sorry that you can't see beyond the end of your nose to see that v3 addresses pragmatic issues. It might not be for you. That's great. Choose another license. But take a look at some of the messages here. For example, vendors are allegedly shipping software for their wireless routers with vulnerabilities. Fixes exist for those vulnerabilities, but the customer can not apply the fix because they can't load a custom build. Things like this do not endear customers to their suppliers. Generally speaking, having the ability to fix your own problems is a good thing. This is one of the pragmatic issues that v3 fixes. The license is a promise by the vendor that these kinds of things won't happen. It is something that an informed consumer can base their purchase on if it is important to them.

        I happen to think it is important to me. Many other people here happen to think it is important to them. Obviously you do not. I think you are letting your bias cloud your judgement, but that's up to you.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          Last summer CNet reported that 50% of GPL projects hosted by google code were GPLv3. That works out to at least 56,000 projects.

          And how many of those are actually stable, shipping, useful software? How many users does that represent, in total?

          Finally, if industry is accepting the GPL because it is pragmatic, then that is a good thing. I'm sorry that you can't see beyond the end of your nose to see that v3 addresses pragmatic issues.

          I never said it didn't. But if it really goes as far as some in this discussion are suggesting — and not being a lawyer, I'm not sure whether it really does or not, so I'm taking their word for it — then I think it has moved beyond pragmatism into the world of wishful thinking.

          I don't really understand what is pragmatic about the kinds of cases I described. Code that is designed to

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by sco08y (615665)

        And the GPLv3 already fixes it, and anything else that gives out source while not giving you everything you need to build it.

        Which may explain the almost complete absence of GPLv3 code in the software world.

        In the embedded world, for example, your chances of getting permission to release the specs for any major chip to meet these requirements to the letter are probably zero.

        ...

        The original GPL was a reasonable idea and made a lot of sense to a lot of people. GPLv3 is RMS and co's attempt to turn that popularity into a vehicle for their minority views on software development, and I guess we can see now how little of the community's support of the GPL was really down to believing in the FSF's political stance, and how much was just pragmatism.

        As much as RMS may be an ideologue, his view in this case seems to be pretty pragmatic.

        Simply getting people using GPL'd code but being able to easily sidestep the requirement that others be able to use it completely defeats the purpose of it. Why would I ever want to make a deal that gives the other guy everything in exchange for, in reality, nothing? It's not pragmatic or moderate to accept an idea in principle but not act on it in fact, it's just pointless.

        Maybe GPL 3 is slow to being adopted, maybe ther

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        GPLv3 is an evolution of GPL, particularly GPLv2, against abuses which RMS predicted and which have now verified, most particularly patent issues. If you've not encountered patent software issues in the last 5 years, good for you, but they've been an increasing burden for people I work with.

        The GPL is not merely "philosophical". While RMS may have a minority viewpoint, it's a minority viewpoint of someone with insight and a strange but effective brand of leadership, and the GPLv3 was developed openly with a

  • by mysidia (191772) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @05:42PM (#32317262)

    GNU GENERAL PUBLIC LICENSE Version 3 Free Software Foundation, Section 1, "Source Code.": The "Corresponding Source" for a work in object code form means all the source code needed to generate, install, and (for an executable work) run the object code and to modify the work, including scripts to control those activities. However, it does not include the work's System Libraries, or general-purpose tools or generally available free programs which are used unmodified in performing those activities but which are not part of the work.

    The GPL does not allow authors to hide or refrain from distributing any build scripts or information required to build/install the binaries.

    They cannot have a "secret" build environment, the GPL requires that they reveal all scripts and information about the build environment.

    I don't understand why the FSF would not pursue this with full vigor. Obviously you cannot exercise your freedom to modify code, if the vendor does not distribute the pieces required to build and install a binary.

    • by penguinboy (35085)
      It doesn't sound like that applies. The OP mentions being unable to get the compiler and firmware loader utilities (which I expect would be "general purpose tools ... used unmodified") - not build scripts referred to in the quoted section.
      • Embedded SDKs... (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        It's an interesting problem with the GPL license text. There is a big difference between the "components released with the operating system" depending on whether you are talking about the full embedded SDK (often licensed for $$$ to product developers) or the final run-time OS (distributed in the product that goes to end-users). To which does the license text refer? Even back when GPLv2 was being authored, many Unix systems did not include compilers in the base release but they could be obtained by anybod

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Hurricane78 (562437)

        One of the companies still openly admitted that they violate the GPL:

        one of them acknowledges that they are not fully GPL compliant, due to other license restrictions

        I’d tell the FSF to sue them to hell and back! What is GPL? A second class license that can be just ignored due to some other stuff??

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by PAjamian (679137)

        Those would actually qualify as install scripts, see GPL Violations Source Code Release FAQ [gpl-violations.org], specifically this section:

        What are "scripts used to control installation"?

        After having translated software from its source code form into
        executable format, the program quite often needs to be installed into
        the system. The process of installation is often automatized by
        installation scripts. Exactly those scripts are referred to by the
        GPL.

        Please note that this is of special practical importance in the case of
        embedded devices, since the executable program(s) need to be somehow
        installed onto the device. If the user is not given a way to install
        his own (modified) versions of the program, he has no way of exercising
        his freedom to run modified versions of the program.

        Sometimes, the process of installation is not facilitated by scripts, but
        by some other means (such as executable programs). The GPL text only
        mentions the word "scripts". But when reading and interpreting the license,
        it is clearly understood that the license doesn't specifically only mean
        "scripts", but any kind of software programs that are required to install
        a (modified) version of the compiled program.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by c1ay (703047)
      Does that effectively mean you can't legally install GPL code on ROM since it couldn't be overwritten even if you did have the build environment and installation scripts?
  • by Pop69 (700500) <billy&benarty,co,uk> on Sunday May 23, 2010 @05:42PM (#32317264) Homepage
    As far as I can read it, the corresponding source definition in clause 1, GPLv3 covers that situation

    The "Corresponding Source" for a work in object code form means all the source code needed to generate, install, and (for an executable work) run the object code and to modify the work, including scripts to control those activities. However, it does not include the work's System Libraries, or general-purpose tools or generally available free programs which are used unmodified in performing those activities but which are not part of the work. For example, Corresponding Source includes interface definition files associated with source files for the work, and the source code for shared libraries and dynamically linked subprograms that the work is specifically designed to require, such as by intimate data communication or control flow between those subprograms and other parts of the work.

    My reading of "all the source code needed to generate, install, and (for an executable work) run the object code and to modify the work" would cover the build environment. They could arguing that the build tools and environment are general purpose tools, etc used unmodified. I'd have to think that if that were the case you wouldn't be having any problems trying to make modifications though.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 23, 2010 @06:02PM (#32317424)

      "They could arguing that the build tools and environment are general purpose tools, etc used unmodified. I'd have to think that if that were the case you wouldn't be having any problems trying to make modifications though."

      Would that it were that simple. There's lots of things out there where you can't just download the source and do a "make clean; make".... do you have the right libraries? (glibc version hell) The right version of the tools? (there's more than one version of gcc out there) The provider of the software might not even know... they just make it on their box, it goes ok, and they package up the source and distribute it.

    • No, I disagree. The section "However, this does not include the work's System Libraries, or general-purpose tools..."

      I read this as you must include the defines that you used to build it, but not the build script or firmware loader utilities that you used to put it on the device. To point out, the GPLv3 is the strictest, GPL1 and GPL2 are not as strict.

      Not a violation here.

  • by kurokame (1764228) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @05:44PM (#32317288)
    Have these companies found a convenient way to use GPL code, whilst preventing their customers from doing the same?

    Yes - it's called "having more lawyers than you."

    What are you going to do about it, sue? You can always sue...if you actually have the resources to fight it out. And even if you actually get it to stick, it could be years down the road before you actually get access.

    Regarding your specific case, can you reverse-engineer a solution?
  • This only adds bad press to Linux. OTOH an offer to cooperate with freeing up the firmware?
    Sign an NDA on a tool-set for the company, then release a free version. Simply reverse-engineer it with manufacturer's cooperation, access to docs and tools, then "hack" it in a blessed way that doesn't violate the company's licenses and complies with GPL. I'm sure they would be glad if someone helped them comply with GPL instead of forcing them to do it themselves.

    • Re:Don't sue... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by TheRaven64 (641858) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @05:57PM (#32317398) Journal
      He can't sue, because unless he is the author of one of the piece of software distributed on he device he doesn't have standing. I'm not sure that bad press is something to be concerned about though - does Microsoft get bad press when they go after people distributing machines pre-installed with Windows without complying with the license agreement (i.e. paying them)?
    • Re:Don't sue... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by qbast (1265706) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @06:01PM (#32317420)

      This only adds bad press to Linux.

      WTF? Making a company comply with a license gives "bad press" ? I think that current way (asking, nagging, offering help, refusing to take any serious step) is worse - it promotes idea that GPL and other free licenses don't really matter - you can ignore them all you want and in worst case they can string along the community by releasing small bits and "discussing the situation" until the product becomes obsolete anyway.

      OTOH an offer to cooperate with freeing up the firmware? Sign an NDA on a tool-set for the company, then release a free version.

      Sure. Why not become unpaid employee. It is the company's responsibility. If they are incapable of understanding license of software they distribute, then maybe it is time to fire (and sue for damages) their lawyers.

      Simply reverse-engineer it with manufacturer's cooperation, access to docs and tools, then "hack" it in a blessed way that doesn't violate the company's licenses and complies with GPL. I'm sure they would be glad if someone helped them comply with GPL instead of forcing them to do it themselves.

      Well, they did not comply with the license, so it has been automatically revoked, isn't that right?

    • Re:Don't sue... (Score:4, Informative)

      by Arker (91948) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @06:04PM (#32317430) Homepage

      Don't ever sign an NDA. That's horrible advice.

      If the build-system has to be reverse-engineered for this company to avoid being held accountable for their commercial infringement of copyright, it's on them to get it done. And the person implementing the new build-system will need to be working in a clean room, without ever seeing the old build system, so there is no call for an NDA there. Get one person to analyse and document the function of the old one, and write the specification, then the person who does the new build system only sees that spec.

    • by gringer (252588)

      And it'll work, too.

      As long as there aren't dogs and those meddling kids involved.

  • No end run (Score:5, Informative)

    by Todd Knarr (15451) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @05:45PM (#32317296) Homepage

    No, the build environment doesn't provide an end-run around the GPL. Both v2 and v3 of the GPL require the distributor to provide the scripts that control the build. In GPLv2 it's in section 3, in GPLv3 it's in section 1. GPLv3 also covers this again in section 6, in a more general form when it discusses installation information.

    • Re:No end run (Score:5, Informative)

      by harlows_monkeys (106428) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @07:14PM (#32317972) Homepage

      The submitter didn't say that the scripts that control the build are missing. He said they don't provide a build environment. If I distribute GPL code that I build with Visual Studio, I don't have to distribute Visual Studio. I just have to distribute the project file (or whatever it is nowadays--haven't don't Windows in a long time).

      It sounds like both companies are distributing embedded software for a hardware device. It's quite possible that the things they aren't distributing are part of some third-party expensive development environment, that they are using off the shelf. If that's the case, there's no GPL violation, as long as they distribute everything the submitter would need to build and install the software if he were to go obtain from that third party the development environment.

      • by Moraelin (679338) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @09:04PM (#32318766) Journal

        That's not how I read that clause. While it does make the mention that you don't need to distribute any freely available or common tools required to build that source, it seems to me like they spell it out pretty clearly that otherwise you need to distribute everything needed to build, install and run that thing. (But I am not a laywyer.)

        Otherwise it would be trivial to make the source need parsing through a script that only runs on my internal and proprietary modified Brainfuck interpreter, and then through a Lisp program that only runs on an old version of Autocad that's still installed somewhere in the company, before it compiles.

        In your particular case, sure, you can develop with Visual Studio, but surely you can take the time to write a makefile that can be run at the command prompt. In fact, it's been years since I worked with Visual Studio, but I seem to remember it did that for me itself. And they wouldn't even force you to use gcc, since the command line versions of the MS compilers were free last I heard.

        (And frankly if they don't have an automatic build machine, and the scripts that that needs, i.e., if they're in the kind of situation where tgey can only build on some dev's machine in their Visual Studio, with whatever sources they may or may not have checked out at the time... they're not the kind of company I'd want to buy anything from in the first place.)

        Plus, if I understand the summary right, even if he managed to compile the binary code, the tools to install (and thus also to run it) are missing too. I'd say that's against the letter and spirit of that clause right there. The idea was to be able to make changes, not to just have a bit of source to open in an editor, but not be able to actually run any changes or, for that matter, even know if it's the right source. How would you know for something you can't even compile, and certainly not run?

        And it's hard not to ascribe it to malice there. Whatever proprietery protocols they use to upload that firmware, surely they're encapsulated in a bunch of classes and functions that are just called from whatever environment they use. It's trivial to pack the same in a small command line utility.

        (And again, if they're that joined at the hip to whatever environment is usually used to upload that firmware, that they can't separate the classes that do the uploading from the rest of the beast... it sure doesn't sound like the kind of company I'd trust to program my VCR, much less the firmware for anything.)

  • by Vellmont (569020) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @05:49PM (#32317322)

    It sounds like you don't work for either of these companies. So why are you protecting them?

    If you really want them to do the right thing, start making a stink about it. There's very little chance anything is going to change because one guy asked them to. There's at least some chance that they will if the companies start getting a bloody nose from it.

    • by Sarten-X (1102295)
      The names should be protected at this stage. It's not clear whether they're doing something wrong or not (see the Visual Studio example in a nearby comment), so calling them out and setting loose the /. horde is a bit extreme at this point.
      • by Vellmont (569020)


        The names should be protected at this stage. It's not clear whether they're doing something wrong or not

        It's not clear if they're violating the GPL because there's not enough information given. We have no idea if this is GPL 2 or GPL 3, no idea what build tools are/are not available, no idea what the product is, etc.

        (see the Visual Studio example in a nearby comment),

        The relevant part of the GPL2 is:

        For an executable work, complete source
        code means all the source code for all modules it contains, plus any
        a

  • Not really, no (Score:4, Interesting)

    by SSpade (549608) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @05:51PM (#32317346) Homepage

    Is it a license violation to use GPL code in a Windows program that's built with Visual Studio, given the author is unlikely to provide a copy of Visual Studio on request? You cannot rebuild the application, even given the entire source code, without access to a non-GPL piece of software you don't have access to.

    You might not like it. You might even think it's against the spirit of something or other. But it's not a GPL violation.

    You could argue that one difference is that Visual Studio is available to anyone prepared to pay for it. I'm sure that the build environment for the device you're talking about is also available to anyone prepared to pay for it. It likely costs more than you'd want to pay, though.

  • Their bad (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Arker (91948) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @05:58PM (#32317402) Homepage

    No sympathy for them, if they cannot comply with the license they are engaged in commercial copyright infringement and should be thankful you gave them an opportunity to fix it rather than going straight for statutory damages.

    However the FSF has limited funds and they do have to pick their battles wisely. If all you can do about the situation is bump your FSF contribution then do it.

    As for a practical workaround for your benefit, do you have the ability to write arbitrary bytes to the firmware? If so you should be able do this in a hexeditor. It wouldnt be trivial though - quite a few hours of work, depending on the specifics of how they screwed their HTML up so badly and how it's encoded. You might be able to shortcircuit it a bit by simply determining what IE sends to the device to perform each task, and then scripting your own pages that result in the correct bits being sent to the device. Would have to look at the actual device in-depth to determine which route is most practical.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @06:09PM (#32317450) Journal
    As others have pointed out, GPLs 2 and 3 both require the release of the build-prerequisites. If, as one of the unnamed companies claims, they used GPL code and proprietary build prerequisites that they cannot legally release, than their lawyer(s) fucked up big. Just because the GPL doesn't ask for money, and some of its friends have long hair, doesn't make it any less binding than whatever license governs their build environment. They've put themselves in the untenable situation of having two binding licenses that cannot both be satisfied(and losing redistribution rights for their firmware would probably hurt if they don't have the resources to re-do their build environment).

    However, in practice, to uphold a right, no matter how solidly enshrined in law, generally takes time and money(particularly in civil cases, where the state won't provide you even a shitty lawyer). As long as they aren't the most blatant, the SFLC and their ilk probably won't go after them(especially if their hardware is uncommon or obscure; from a strategic standpoint, the SFLC probably cares more about improvements to OSS software flowing back to the community, and buildability on common devices than they do about buildability on obscure stuff). You might have slightly better luck if you can identify the specific authors/copyright holders of all the GPL code used in the firmware. Particularly for the company that put itself in a license bind, any of the authors could decide to sue them, possibly for real money, if they so chose.

    For you personally, though, you are probably SOL. If you have to ask slashdot, you probably don't have the lawyers you need. About all you can do is make noise about the situation, naming names, ideally, and hope that somebody with firepower takes interest.
    • by pclminion (145572)

      As others have pointed out, GPLs 2 and 3 both require the release of the build-prerequisites.

      I need to ship you a fucking computer along with the source code? A computer is a prerequisite to build the software.

      • by JohnFluxx (413620)

        Or you could just read the actual GPL text that many people have pasted and not be an idiot:

        "all the source code needed to generate, install, and (for an executable work) run the object code and to modify the work, including scripts to control those activities."

        Source code, not hardware.

  • it is copyright (Score:2, Insightful)

    by bravecanadian (638315)

    I thought we hated copyright because it rewards people for too long now etc.

    The company is not depriving anyone else of using the code so therefore there is no harm in it and no value lost etc etc etc

    Funny how we want it both ways, huh?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Arker (91948)

      Copyright does last too long. Doesnt mean it should expire any quicker just because it's offered under a free license than otherwise. And chances are very good the code in question is still quite young.

      A bigger problem is that it has been incorrectly interpreted to allow copyrighting of binary code. That is not consistent with the founders intentions. If you want to copyright software you should have to publish the source code. But in this case the source code that was licensed is published, obviously, so t

  • by Anonymous Coward

    As others have posted, they are meant to give you a copy of the build scripts. These scripts may not work outside of their environment (due to hard coded paths, etc), but they are meant to give you those scripts.

    But nothing in the GPL says that they have to give you the firmware utilities used to load a new firmware on.

  • by Geoffreyerffoeg (729040) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @06:22PM (#32317552)

    The GPL doesn't require that hardware that has GPL code be modifiable to include updated versions of code. Build systems are a distraction here: a more direct form of the problem is that the GPL code is burned into ROM, and even the GPLv3's Tivoization section (number 6, paragraph starting "If you convey...") explicitly permits that. It would be dumb if it didn't. While it may well be the case that for GPLv3 (and not GPLv2) failing to give you a usable build environment for compiling modifying code so you can run it on your "User Product" is a violation, this is forgetting a large part of the purpose of free software.

    The point of free software is that the software, the code, is free for the community to use. Thinking about free software as simply the ability to modify code within its original context causes us to forget opportunities for reusability that benefit the entire free software community, well past the lifetime of this one device, and encourages behavior where modified code isn't usable on other devices or in entirely different contexts. I've written a bit more about this on my blog [mit.edu], with some examples of times when thinking about "free software"/"open source" only within the context of the original product has caused the free software ecosystem as a whole — the thing that's causing large companies to want to embed free software in their hardware devices in the first place — to be left behind.

  • by coolgeek (140561) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @06:22PM (#32317554) Homepage

    Are you talking about makefiles and scripts, or are you talking about a proprietary compiler used to generate the code? There's a huge difference.

  • by bsDaemon (87307) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @06:31PM (#32317624)

    The company I work for builds our custom software environment for specialty networking hardware on top of FreeBSD specifically so we can avoid crap like this. We also employ people to make contributions back to the FreeBSD project as well, so we're not mooches, but seriously... this is why so many companies don't want to get involved with Linux or GPL solutions.

  • You said it yourself; this is as much a loophole to GPL as a criminal getting away with it because he has good lawyers.

    It's not a loophole of GPL itself, but rather of the legal system in which it must rely.

  • by upuv (1201447) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @07:49PM (#32318234) Journal

    Sorry but the hypocrisy of your statement is so in my face I have to say something.

    You are keeping the identity of these companies secret for what end? It's GPL there for open there for it should not be a secret.

    If you say something this community might be able to help you. Maybe one of us has already discovered solutions to your technical problem. When something like this comes up slashdot usually coughs up pages of useful links. It can be rather fun and interesting at times.

    Sadly you are keeping it secret. Thus the helpfulness of this community is next to zip.

    Because you are keeping things secret it would not be all too far fetched to believe that you are actually trying to alter the code is such a way as to derive money from it. Say by either selling an after market mod or by selling it back to the mystery vendor(s).

    Please don't cry about the big companies keeping secrets if you can't even get that out with out keeping a secret.

    P.S. Most likely no violation was made. Hardware and build env's are not governed by source code GPL. Unless of course the hardware or build env is also derived from a GPL reference.

  • by mr_mischief (456295) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @11:04PM (#32319476) Journal

    The two are related, and both are desirable. However, they are mostly two different issues. You have the source and can put it on to any hardware for which you have proper access. Your problem here isn't the software license. It's the hardware license. You also need to get hardware for which you are granted the proper access. The distinction is clear, and I'm not sure why there is so much confusion.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 24, 2010 @01:07AM (#32320130)

    My employer works in a market where we can trust our partners about as far as we can throw them. They would rip us off in a heartbeat given the chance, and have in the past, and we don't have the resources to deal with it in court. We're happy to contribute our modifications of GPL code back to the community, and we do, but the constraints of the embedded environment require that most of our value-add proprietary code is in scripting languages, so it would be trivial for any of them to rip us off if we handed out the build scripts. We don't go out of our way to obfuscate things, but we don't make it easy to modify our firmware either.

    As a consequence of this, GPLv3 is a strict no-go for us, and the same is true for many other small companies in the cut-throat embedded world. If we could trust our partners, or we could afford to litigate when they attempt to screw us over, we'd gladly be as open as possible, but as it stands we can't afford to give away our proprietary code in the process of complying with the GPLv3, so GPLv2 is as Free as we go.

    Posted anonymously for what I hope are extremely obvious reasons.

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