[clug] The GPL and kernel modules

Conrad Canterford conrad at mail.watersprite.com.au
Wed Jun 21 03:48:03 GMT 2006

Cameron Patrick said:
> Conrad Canterford wrote:
>> Getting back to the topic at hand -
>> Both FSF and Wasabi Systems are pushing barrows full of FUD.
> Well, their interpretation certainly agrees with how _I'd_ interpret the
> GPL for software I write.  The point of the GPL is to keep the entire
> code base Free software, and hacking proprietary plug-ins or drivers
> into it is very much against the spirit of the exercise.
> Linus has explicitly said that he's fine with proprietary modules for
> Linux, ... [snipped]

The point is - what you, or Linus, or Richard Stallman (sp?) interpret the
GPL to mean doesn't mean anything. What it means can ONLY be
(conclusively) decided by a court. I know this is hard to accept, but by
signing up to the GPL, you are accepting the wording of the licence as
absolutely defining the rights bestowed by that licence - even if it says
(including being subsequently interpretted by a court to say) something
completely at odds with what you thought it said.

> Quite a few other kernel developers are unhappy with this, and so there
> is now a licence field in every kernel module and a distinction between
> "GPL-only APIs" (which only GPL-ed kernel modules can access) and other
> exported symbols (which any kernel module can access).  More and more of
> the kernel is being marked as GPL only.

This is a nice theory. It might even work. But I certainly wouldn't be
betting any money on it. One of the biggest problems large scale GPL
projects are going to face is that it is a collaborative effort. All you
need is for one developer out of a thousand to say "Oh, but *I* don't mind
my code being used by non-GPL'd programs" and suddenly you have a horrible
horrible mess to sort out.

Personally, I don't see a problem with binary kernel modules provided some
basic rules are followed. They are no more a "derivative work" than any
piece of commercial software that runs on Linux, MacOS or Windoze.

This strikes me as absolutely no different to any other commercial
software. We as consumers have a far more effective solution to the
problem then bitching and moaning about how these things are not within
the spirit of free software. If you don't like the conditions under which
you need to use the product DON'T USE IT. Send the relevant company an
email saying you'd have bought their product if they had GPL'd drivers,
then go buy something else that does. That's going to be far far more
effective than lining their pockets regardless.


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