23 October 2006

GPLv3: What Linus, Alan, Greg, Andrew and Dave Said

Few subjects in the world of free software have provoked as much discussion as the new GNU GPLv3 licence. Mostly it's outsiders (like me) sounding off about this, but what do the people involved really think?

I decided to ask them, and write up the result for the Guardian. I was expecting a couple of lines back to my emailed questions if I was lucky, but badly underestimated hacker generosity. Linus and his mates sent me back long and typically thoughtful replies, while RMS wanted to talk about it at length.

Since I was only able to use a tiny fraction of this material in the Guardian article that resulted, I thought it might be a useful contribution to the GPLv3 debate to post it here (with the permission of those concerned).

For length reasons, I've split it up into two postings. Below are the replies of the kernel coders, which I received on 3 October, 2006 (placed in the order in which their authors appear in the recent GPLv3 poll). The interview with RMS can be found above.

Linus Torvalds

I don't think there will necessarily be a lot of _practical_ fallout from it, so in that sense it probably doesn't matter all that much. It's not like we haven't had license "discussions" before (the whole BSD vs GPL flame-war seemed to go on for years back in the early nineties). And in many ways, it's not like the actual split between the "Open Source" and the "Free Software" mentality is in any way new, or even brought about by the GPLv3 license.

So while I think there is still a (admittedly pretty remote) chance of some kind of agreement, I don't think that it's a disaster if we end up with a GPLv2 and a new and incompatible GPLv3. It's not like we haven't had licenses before either, and most of them haven't been compatible.

In some ways, I can even hope that it clears the air for all the stupid tensions to just admit that there are differences of opinion, and that the FSF might even just stop using the name "GNU/Linux", finally admitting that Linux never was a GNU project in the first place.

The real downside, I suspect, is just the confusion by yet another incompatible license - and one that shares the same name (licenses such as OSL and GPL were both open source licenses and they were incompatible with each other, but at least they had clear differentiation in their names).

And there's bound to be some productivity loss from all the inevitable arguments, although in all honesty, it's not like open source developers don't spend a lot of time arguing _anyway_, so maybe that won't be all that big of a factor - just a shift of area rather than any actual new lost time ;)

One of the reasons the thing gets so heated is that people (very much me included) feel very strongly about their licenses. It's more than just a legal paper, it's deeply associated with what people have been working on for in some cases decades. So logically I don't think the disagreement really matters a whole lot, but a lot of it is about being very personally attached to some license choice.

Alan Cox

Ar Maw, 2006-10-03 am 13:57 +0100, ysgrifennodd glyn moody:
> Since it seems likely that the kernel will remain under v2, while the
> rest of GNU goes for v3, I was wondering whether you think this is
> going to cause you and others practical problems in your work on the
> kernel. What about companies and end-users of GNU/Linux: will there

There is no such thing as GNU/Linux. For an article like this it's really important to understand and clarify that (and from the US view also as a trademark matter).

I mean there is no abstract entity even that is properly called "GNU/Linux". It's a bit of spin-doctoring by the FSF to try and link themselves to Linux. Normally its just one of those things they do and people sigh about, but when you look at the licensing debate the distinction is vital. (its also increasingly true that FSF owned code is a minority part of Linux)

Linux is not and never has been an FSF project. I would say the majority of the kernel developers don't buy the FSF political agenda. Linus likewise chose the license for the pragmatic reason it was a good license for the OS, not because he supported the GNU manifesto.

Thus this isn't about the Linux people splitting from the FSF, its a separate project that happens to have been consulted as to whether it would like to use a new, allegedly better, variant of the license it chose.

Linux does use FSF tools but that doesn't make it a GNU project any more than this article will be an IBM project because it was typed on a PC, or a BT project because it used an ADSL line.

The Linux kernel being GPLv2 isn't a problem we can see for the future. It is a distinct work to the applications that run on it, just as Windows kernel is to Windows applications. The more awkward corner cases will be LGPL and similar licenses where you want the benefits and flexibility. The FSF have indicated they understand that and will ensure it works out. The licenses are about having barriers to abuse, not barriers to use.

> be negative consequences for them, or do you think that life will
> just go on as before?

I'm not sure what will happen with the rest of the GPL licensed software world. It really is too early to say because the license is a draft at this point and various areas around patents and optional clauses remain open to correction and improvement.

Most GPL licensed code is not controlled by the FSF and probably has too many contributers to relicense. Stuff that is new or has a few owners might change license if the new license is good. However given that most of the work on the FSF owned projects is done by non FSF people then if the license is bad I imagine all the developers will continue the GPLv2 branch and the FSF will be left out in the cold. The FSF know this too and that's why it takes time to build a new license and consensus.

It may well be the new license is mostly used with new code.

> What's the main problem you have with GPLv3?

For the the kernel there are a few, the big one that is hard to fix is the DRM clause. Right now the GPLv2 covers things like DRM keys in generic language and it means the law can interpret that sanely. Its vague but flexible, which lawyers don't like of course. There isn't any caselaw but out of court settlements support the fact this is enforcable.

The GPLv3 variant is much stronger and it appears to cover things like keys to rented devices where the DRM logic is less clear.

The big one though for the kernel is not a legal matter or even a specifically GPLv3 matter. Many people contributed to the kernel under a set of understood terms. Not only would all those people have to agree to a change in those terms but those terms changing would prevent some of the existing users from continuing to use it in the manner they do now.

You can't really make an agreement like that and then change the rules on people who've contributed time, money and code to the Linux project. I support Linus' assertion that legal issues aside he doesn't have the moral right to change the rules this way.

Greg Kroah-Hartman

> My question concerns the timing of the recent white paper: why was it
> released now, and not at the beginning of the GPLv3 consultation process
> when it might have been able to influence things?

The process is not over, and we still hope to influence things. We would not have written that letter otherwise. The main reason it was not done earlier is that we just did not think it was going to be a problem, as the kernel was not going to change licenses. But the more that we realized this was going to have a problem outside of just the kernel, and affect the whole community, we felt that we should at least voice our opinions.

Also, please note that the DRM issues have changed over time from being very broad (which was at least admirable), to being explicitly targeted at only the Linux kernel. Now the license is worded to try to stop the "tivoization" issue.

This is the where a bootloader or bios determines if the crypto signature of the kernel is acceptable or not before it decides to run it or not. This means that only "approved" kernels that come from the company will run properly on the hardware.

Now this kind of restriction pretty much _only_ affects the kernel, not any other type of program. This is because only if you can control the kernel can you ensure that the system is "secure".

So it seems that the FSF is only targeting the Tivo issue, which us kernel developers have explicitly stated in public that it is acceptable to use _our_ code in this manner. So they are now trying to tell another group (us) what we should do to our code.

As the FSF has no contribution in the Linux kernel, and has nothing to do with it in general, we kernel developers are now a bit upset that someone else is trying to tell us that something we explicitly stated was acceptable use of our code, is suddenly bad and wrong.

> Given that the FSF is unlikely to throw away all the work it has done, or
> even modify it substantially/substantively, do you have any thoughts on
> what's going to happen?

I really have no idea, but I would hope that things change for the better. We are already hearing rumors from the people on the different GPLv3 committees that our statement has had an affect, but we will not know for sure until the next draft comes out.

Andrew Morton

Well gee. We're programmers and we spend our time programming, not swanning around at meetings talking about legal matters and playing politics. We find things like licensing to be rather a distraction, and dull. So most people largely ignored it all.

It was only later in the process when the thing started to take shape, when we saw where it was headed and when we began to hear the concerns of various affected parties that there was sufficient motivation to get involved.

In fact this points at a broad problem with the existing process: I'm sure that a large majority of the people who actually write this code haven't made their opinions felt to the FSF. Yet the FSF presumes to speak for them, and proposes to use their work as ammunition in the FSF's campaigns.

And why haven't these programmers made their opinions known? Some are busy. Many work for overlawyered companies and are afraid that they might be seen to be speaking for their companies. Some don't speak English very well. Almost all of them find it to be rather dull and a distraction.

Dave Miller

For the kernel I'm pretty sure things will go on as they have before.

The problems are most likely for the projects under the GNU Project umbrella. All the copyrights to those projects, such as GCC, Binutils, etc. are all assigned to the GNU Project. So the FSF could, and almost certainly will, make all of those projects use the GPL v3.

As an aside, I will note that originally the FSF used to say that they wanted copyright assigned to them "to make it easier to enforce the GPL in court for software projects under the GNU Project umbrella." But as is clear today, it's also a power thing, in that having all the copyrights assigned to them allows the FSF to choose the licensing of the code as they see fit since they are the copyright holder of the complete work.

At the point of a relicense to GPL v3 for these GNU Project source trees one of two things could happen. Either the developers are OK with this, even if to simply "grin and bear it" and things go on under GPL v3. Or, the developers are unhappy with this, and fork off a GPL v2 copy of the tree and do development there.

In the end, even though they've assigned their copyrights to the FSF, the developers do control the ultimate licensing of these GNU projects. If they don't like GPL v3 and work on the GPL v2 fork instead, the FSF is at a loss because while they can mandate whatever they like such mandates are useless if the developers don't want to contribute to the GPL v3 variant.

So being the ones who do the development work is actually a kind of power which permeates through all of the politics. If the political folks do something stupid, the developers can just take their talent and efforts elsewhere.

I'm more than familiar with this process, since I was part of the group that forked the GCC compiler project many years ago because the majority of the GCC developers found the head maintainer (Richard Kenner) impossible to work with. Although he was quite upset about it, there wasn't much that Richard Stallman and the FSF could do about it. In the end the fork became the "real GCC" under GNU Project umbrella once more.

So the opinion of the developers matters a lot, especially when it comes to licensing. It could get messy is a lot of these projects fork, but the GPL v3 isn't a done deal yet so the FSF still has time to fix things up and make it more palatable to people.

> Alone among those polled for their views on the v2 and v3 you choose
> 0 I don't really care at all
> why is this when everybody else seems to hold such extreme views on the
> subject? Do you think they're getting worked up over nothing?

First, I think the poll was pretty useless.

The poll asked what people think of the GPL v3 draft, which is by definition in draft state and therefore not ready for final consumption. Of course the GPL v3 still needs some fixing. So asking about actually using it in a major software project right now is totally pointless. What would have been more interesting would have been to ask what the developers think about the "core issues" rather than the specific implementation of those issues in the current GPL v3 draft.

For example, polling on what the kernel developers thought about "keying of the Linux kernel" in the way that Tivo does would have been much more interesting. In my opinion, I believe you would have seen about an even split down the middle on this one. But even the people who are against keying think that the DRM language in the GPL v3 meant to combat this is not done correctly.

Several kernel developers believe that GPL v2 already has enough language to make restrictions such as keying be not allowed.

Personally, I'm against keying and I'm quite unhappy with what Tivo did with the Linux kernel. This kind of keying sets a very bad precedent. For example, in the future vendors could get away with some questionable things using keying. Say a vendor sells a piece of hardware, and provides the GPL source to the kernel drivers of the new things in that piece of hardware. Then, they only allow kernel binaries signed with a special key to load. This makes the publishing of their drivers effectively useless. The vendor still controls everything and nobody gains from the code they've submitted. Nobody can recompile a kernel with their changes and actually test it on their hardware, since they have no way to produce a signed kernel that the device will actually allow to boot. So the value of this "contribution" is absolutely zero. This is, in my opinion, totally against the spirit of the GPL v2.

I would have been perfectly fine with Tivo using another OS for their product. All the world does not have to be Linux, and if Linux's license doesn't suit someone, they are free to not use it.

In most examples I've ever been shown where this kind of lockdown is supposedly "legitimate", the owner of the device is effectively making this lockdown decision. For example I'm OK with electronic voting machines used in real elections having their software locked down. The government owns those machines, and is well within their rights to lock down that hardware in order to ensure a proper and fair election to the public by preventing software tampering.

But if I purchase an electronic voting machine of my own, and it uses the Linux kernel, I very much want to tinker with it, build my own kernels, and try to poke holes in the device. How else could we validate that electronic voting machines are safe if the public has no way to test these claims out for themselves, in particular when such devices use open technologies such as the Linux kernel?


Anonymous said...

In reference to Dave's comments:

Perhaps the GPLv3 should stop using the word "user" and start using the phrase "hardware owner" when refering to rights.

If the electral commission owns the voting machine. They get the keys. Who else would you trust? The company that made it. I don't think so. A voter may be a user of the machine, but is not the owner.

similarly, I don't get the code to the traffic lights I'm sitting in front of because I'm not the owner. Imagine the chaos if I did get it :)

Similarly Tivo shouldn't have to give away anything, if they don't sell the boxes. Why don't they sell the service and loan the user the box they need to recieve it.

It's a natural right to control things you "own".

Anonymous said...

Why is Linus and Alan so worked up about this "GNU/Linux" issue.

Anonymous said...

I think Dave Miller is obviously the most calm person here, and the most fair in what he says. GPLv3 is just a draft, it isn't out yet. And no one here is a lawyer...do you guys even consult with lawyers in your company? The FSF has Eben Moglen(a good lawyer) who is writing the license, I believe it's difficult to interpret a license properly without a legal background. Maybe you guys should have a lawyer sit down and explain some of this to you. And at least FSF and friend are trying to do something, TiVO is bad, software patents are bad, DRM is bad, but you guys aren't doing anything about it, they are. I think the choice is easy as a developer I side with the FSF on this, they've laid the foundation with GPLv2 and helped us get where we are now. GPLv2 obviously needs updating, I look foward to this new license and how it tries to protect the spirit of the community and not let the corporations steal from our spirit.

Anonymous said...

Being free does not include the power to take freedom away. That power is reserved for governments.

In respect to Tivoisation, what the anti-GPL v3 crowd are supporting is a kind of anarchy where individuals can use their power to form empires that take freedom away from subjects.

Conversely, the GPL v3 is a licence that enforces freedom, and disallows that kind of anarchy. It basically says that you are free to do absolutely anything with the software as long as the set of things that are possible to do with the software remains exactly the same for everyone after you've distributed it.

So for example, in the case of the Tivo, the number of things that the Tivo company can do with the software is greater than the number of things that a Tivo user can do with the software. There are less freedoms for users than for the company.

Note that the GPL v3 has nothing to do with creating so-called "hardware rights", it is about ensuring that the possibile uses of the software remain the same for everyone after distribution.


Anonymous said...

Ah! I have a house to sell - but I will not give the buyer the keys. Additionally, I have installed smart cameras that detect when the new "owner" attempts to "smuggle" in some paint to change the color of any part of the house, he/she will be locked out and denied access to the house.

Does any one want to buy this house? I suspect most of the kernel developers would love this house. So I'm going to build a whole colony of them and sell it to them!

Theodore Tso said...

With respect to "Tivosation", remember though that it's completely up to the end user whether or not they want to buy the locked down hardware platform. Sometimes I've purchased locked down appliances for which I don't have access to the firmware source (regardless of whether they use Linux or some other proprietary OS) because I don't have the _time_ to hack every single appliance that comes along. Sometimes a an appliance is just an appliance, just as a cigar is just a cigar....

That being said, Tivo has lost me as a customer because they locked down the Tivo 2. I've spent more money on new hard drives to keep my Tivo 1 system running than I would have if I just purchased a new Tivo 2. And if I ever needed to replace my Tivo 1, I'd probably build my own MythTV instead of buying a Tivo 2. If there are enough of people who think like me, then Tivo will go out of business. This is why I don't think the anti-Tivosation clauses is needed or even a good thing.

If someone wants to use their VC money to improve Linux, in support of some business case that involves locked down hardware, as long as they return the improvements back to the Linux development community, I'm OK with it. Whether or not I as a consumer will decide to buy the locked-down hardware should be independent to whether or not the startup uses Linux. In some cases I may be quite happy to buy the locked-down hardware. In other cases, I will chose not too --- but that choice should be up to me, not the GPLv3.

Anonymous said...

Ah! So the kernel developers will not buy my locked-down house! But they will happily provide me with the bricks and the labor to build this locked-down house to which I - as the builder - own the rights to retain the keys!

Of course it doesn't matter to them who buys the house as long as its not them!

Ah! The light dawns on me!


Anonymous said...

Most people don't have the time to hack a box, but if only one person has the time and he can share his work to provide an improvement on the device then everyone can benefit, even the manufacturer of the device. Indeed, this already happens with some hardware devices that use linux.

Besides, the market wont solve problems like the Tivo. The market will be unaffected by anything that passes under the radar of the majority of consumers, and DRM and unnecessarily restrictive devices are exactly that, especially if the only available devices offering a particular convenience are such. No amount of market fundamentalism will help here. Markets only work when consumers understand what they are buying. This is why we don't have a buyer-beware health service: "Oh? You spent £30000 on an unnecessary operation? Tough. Do some research before you buy."

What I find constantly surprising is that almost all the people who are against the GPL v3 are against DRM and wouldn't support it by buying devices that use it but at the same time are happy to provide their support by letting them use the work of a community that is against these practices in the first place! Either you want to support DRM or you don't, and if you don't then you shouldn't be providing your support to those who impose it by making their life a whole lot easier by letting them use linux.

Let them try to restrict us entirely off the back of their own efforts!

Calson said...

Trouble with all of this is the following: If everything moves to GPL V3, all companies like Tivo will do is not use keys, but have the machine stop functioning should anyone try to access it. Or they will move to proprietary hardware that cannot be accessed.

There is no way that a copyright licence will stop DRM.

Anonymous said...

I do not believe there is a Linux kernel conspiracy as what I took away from reading the gerard-dot-fernandes-at-gmail-dot-com post.

How I read the situation is that the kernel developers are merely highlighting a different facet of the word "free" as they want their ability to take what other freely give them and implement it. In exchange, they will contribute back into the community what others and they have put in. There is nothing wrong with this.

This is a different facet to what the GPLv3 wants to highlight. The GPLv3 wants to ensure the END users maintain the ability to tinker. There is nothing wrong with this either.

The FSF (in behalf of the end user) and the kernel maintainers (in behalf of all Linux program contributors) are at odds? It appears both sides will need to communicate and give and take a bit. I sure hope both sides are mature enough to set aside some of their pride.

Anonymous said...

Well guys, to all of you who love the fact that I - the builder - have exclusive possession of the keys of the house you "thought" you owned, please let me know who you are - I'd be only too happy to sell you houses that you only "think" you own.

Please spare me the comparison to medical treatment I didn't want: I can sue the doctor out of a practicing license anywhere in the world if I get charged for a provably unnecessary operation. In comparison, I can't sue Tivo can I? Even though they obviously seem to own the box that I thought I bought?

DRM is all set to 'infect' every piece of digital equipment you own. This is not a paranoid statement. It is already happening in various devices. It is legislation in at least one country and will be in many more. All of you who think that DRM is "below the radar" of users, may continue sleeping in wonderland.

Others who are awake will realise that unlike that silly medical example where the law will prevent a doctor that performs an unnecessary operation costing me money - and possibly my ability to function normally - from ever practicing again, DRM doesn't give me - the consumer - any recourse to legal relief. DRM in fact actively makes it legal to prevent me - the consumer - from exploiting what I own in a manner I see fit. All pathetically disguised as an attempt to increase security, serviceability, etc.

Quite like those houses that I'm going to build - of course I won't be giving the keys to the buyers. And of course, it is for their own security and safety you see!


Anonymous said...

The kernel developers want to have the freedom to allow others to take away freedom. This is a most bizarre position. It appears to be one in favour of absolute freedom of the developers (who are a subset of users) to allow new developers to remove freedoms of other users, including the original developers.

The kernel developers are not in favour of absolute freedom, as the BSD crowd are, because they wanted the restrictions that the GPL v2 imposes. So, in light of the fact that they favour some restrictions that ensure downstream freedoms, why are they against new restrictions that ensure downstream freedoms?

Apparently their answer has something to do with an objection to GPL v3 providing "hardware rights" - but that's just a misrepresentation of its effect and intention. (see post #4)

RE: Medical treatment & legal recourse.

Yes, you can sue doctors for malpractice. That just confirms the point: We do not rely on market forces or "consumer power" to dictate what happens in hospitals. (we use the law in part instead)

The point stands: We cannot rely on markets in situations where the majority of consumers do not understand what they are buying.

I basically agree with you, house builder.

Anonymous said...

"Why is Linus and Alan so worked up about this "GNU/Linux" issue."

As stated, it is a case of a tools provider "GNU" trying to name a construction "Linux" created by others. A analogous situation would be if Dewalt, a wood working tool making company, tried to name all houses made using Dewalt tools "Dewalt Houses". They clearly aren't the creators of the houses and Linux is clearly a separate project under different management than GNU.

Anonymous said...

"As stated, it is a case of a tools provider "GNU" trying to name a construction "Linux" created by others"

Linux is a case of a kernel provider "linux" trying to name a construction "X Windows, KDE, Gnome, GNU tools, OpenOffice, etc. etc. etc." created by others.

Linux is just a kernel, and accounts for less than 0.1% of any "linux" distribution.

The question is why should all those things be referred to as "GNU/Linux" any more than just "Linux" as neither is representative. If you decide to draw the line at the operating system instead of the kernel then you are left with the GNU contribution + the kernel, hence the OS would be more accurately described as "GNU/Linux." (semantics about the definition of OS aside)

The argument about where to draw the line is a tedious one and doubtlessly will continue for many years yet, but it must surely be acknowledged that "linux" in it's most simplest form with the minimum code possible that still produces a working system would still have to include the GNU C libraries, some of the GNU tools and most probably be complied by the GNU GCC compiler. This still represents a far greater contribution in terms of %age of code from GNU/FSF than from the linux dev team. The linux kernel on it's own would be completely useless.

Anonymous said...

Are Linus and Alan so dumb not to have understood what "GNU/Linux" means? I cannot believe that: everyone perfectly understands what that means. No one has ever claimed Linux was/is a GNU project. So why the fuss?

Anonymous said...

It really is a pity that some kernel developers are talking such complete illogical rubbish.

GNU/Linux is the correct term - it stands for the complete OS which is a conglomeration of GNU layers and applications sitting on top of the Linux kernel.

Apparently they have no objection to it being called the Linux OS - which is clearly is not. But any attempt by the FSF to clarify such statements is obviously "spin-doctoring" as far as the kernel developers are concerned.

What a shame!


Ed said...

I think it's silly to spend so much energy arguing over differing points of view that are BOTH correct. All of these apologies are dangerous things. You don't license a house, you BUY it. A license is a device to retain ownership of a product, even after it is "sold". The GPL is a restriction on freedom that intends to protect freedom. If we had REAL software freedom, there would be no license attached and it would be called public domain FREEWARE.

This is all a few nerds, drunk with fame, arguing about the better captain: Kirk vs. Piccard.

Not that it is right or wrong, but I feel that the FSF leans toward some utopian semi-communist ideal. Because the ideal isn't real world, they have to license the heck out of their software to force it to be free. (Think about that.. FORCED to be free. Now is the time for a witty analogy.)

The kernel team, on the other hand, are at least living in the real world. Market forces do work.

I greatly respect the immense knowledge of RMS. However, in all honesty, if your printer driver doesn't work, buy a different brand and check out an HCL before buying.

"Peace cannot be kept by force. It can only be achieved by understanding." - Albert Einstein

Anonymous said...

..."but I feel that the FSF leans toward some utopian semi-communist ideal."

Communism forced people to participate, FSF invites people to participate. If you don't like their terms, go and use something else. Leave it to the market that you are so fond of.

"Because the ideal isn't real world, they have to license the heck out of their software to force it to be free. (Think about that.. FORCED to be free. Now is the time for a witty analogy.)"

Any witty analogy about that would just look fatuous.

It's true that GPL'd software is not absolutely free ... but... guess what? Few things are absolutely free. You may wish to kidnap somebody or assault them but you are FORCED to do so not freely but under precarious circumstances. It is not as if you can just freely and causually walk up to somebody and kidnap them without fear of retailation, prosecution, arrest and so forth. The reality of life is that being free does not include the power to take other people's freedom away, in all sorts of ways. The GPL is just another example of this reality.

"Market forces do work."

Let's hope you are right and that the consumer sees that something that has a zero marginal cost can better be supplied at near-zero cost and support is not tied to a single vendor who has cornered the market... Oh wait... sounds like Microsoft. Perhaps markets don't work so well.

Start your "it's a monopoly, so it doesn't count as 'normal' market operation" free-market fundamentalist apology here.

Ed said...


I'm sorry I seem so rude. I am just frustrated that just when (GNU/)Linux is doing so well, it faces a new obstacle that threatens to tear through the open source community.

Every time I have joined one nerdy club or another, pointless bickering seems to splinter off factions with new acronyms and better pizza.

Yes, I know I am only adding to the problem by picking sides. I'm no fan of Microsoft, or Apple, or anyone else that restricts legal activities because of a few bad apples that will take advantage. But open source has moved beyond grumblings about making a daisy wheel printer work.

The bottom line is, I side with the kernel developers on this issue. I think Tivo is well within their rights, and I see no real hindrance in their policy. Even if Tivo is bending the spirit of the GPL a bit, there's no need to restrict the license so much that it doesn't play well with DRM and commercial requirements.

Which will hurt us the most? I'd like to be able to use my ipod in GNU/Linux, without breaking the rules.

Anonymous said...

Hi Ed,

"Even if Tivo is bending the spirit of the GPL a bit, there's no need to restrict the license so much that it doesn't play well with DRM and commercial requirements."

The FSF sees the need to be one of stopping hardware TPM schemes (a.k.a. "Trusted Computing") from preventing anybody using their own non-approved and modified software on a general purpose machine.

"Which will hurt us the most? I'd like to be able to use my ipod in GNU/Linux, without breaking the rules."

The position of the FSF is that they'd rather keep the system free rather than give any support to unnecessary restriction schemes. Their position on DRM, as I understand it, is that iPod Fairplay and other DRM schemes consititute unnecessary restrictions on the public. I would have to agree in the case of music DRM, as it encumbers devices that are perfectly suited to copying and distributing at near-zero cost in order to serve an inefficient and unnecessary business model for selling and distributing music. Unnecessary because there are plenty of alternative business models in use that will accomplish the same without imposing unnecessary restrictions on the public. So when musicians and customers wake up to the fact that they are being ripped off by the music business then I'll be happier, and maybe the market will function properly again.

Ed said...


"The FSF sees the need to be one of stopping hardware TPM schemes (a.k.a. "Trusted Computing") from preventing anybody using their own non-approved and modified software on a general purpose machine."

I see how that would be a problem if Dell for example sold a Dimension desktop that only runs a specific kernel. I think the market will prevent Dell from doing something like this. But in the specific case of Tivo, I'd hardly call the Tivo box a general purpose machine. It's a very specific purpose machine. One that Tivo supports because Tivo provides ongoing service to the box. No-one is stopping you from creating your own video capturing system for use on a general purpose system.

I think the line between protecting rights and providing for them is a little muddy. In the Tivo/GNU case, I think Tivo hasn't crossed the line.

I don't have a Tivo, or anything similar, so it doesn't really matter to me personally. I just think the issue isn't worth all the uproar in the open source community.