A fight against evil or a fight for attention?

Two hot issues are making the rounds. First, Debian and Firefox are having a spat, and the end result may be that Debian will distribute Firefox under a different name. Second, the war betwen Linus Torvalds and other Kernel developers and the Free Software Foundation over GPLv3 is continuing, with Torvalds saying he's fed up with the FSF. Here is my take on both, and related issues.

Defining our terms

First, let me tell you a little about evil. Lies are evil. Greed is evil. When the attempt to satisfy one's own desire for power and/or wealth prohibits others from engaging in perfectly ethical practices, that is evil.

Based on these descriptions of some evils, commercial software is not evil. Proprietary software is not evil. Open source is not evil. Not even DRM is evil. Evil people use some of these things for evil purposes.

Proprietary software, itself, isn't evil. We're used to thinking of proprietary software as evil because of the way it has been abused, mostly by companies like Microsoft, though Microsoft is certainly not the only offender. Granted, it is also a bad thing if you buy proprietary software and it is discontinued. This may leave you in a position where you have no way to support it. But this latter problem doesn't stem from evil intent. It's just a circumstantial inconvience that you could have avoided if you chose an open source product instead.

I hate DRM with a passion, but not even DRM is evil. What if you could take a DRM-protected song and do anything you want with it except sell copies of it or make it publicly available? You could make as many copies as you want, and store these copies on virtually any device or media. You could transcode it into any format you want. In other words, the DRM would not restrict your fair use in any way. It would only prevent you from doing something illegal or unethical.

I don't see how it would be possible to implement this kind of DRM from a technical perspective. My point is simply that the supposed intent of DRM, which is to prevent illegal or unethical use of copyrighted material, is not evil. At best, DRM is an inconvenience. At worst, the motives of those who are promoting DRM are evil. There are implementations of DRM I would consider evil because they are attempts to satisfy someone's desire for power and wealth while prohibiting users from engaging in perfectly ethical practices like fair use. But DRM itself is not evil.

Proprietary software, DRM, and other things I listed above are more or less easy to exploit for evil behavior. Don't think for a moment that open source is immune. The LGPL invites evil behavior. I can sell a proprietary application that links LGPL libraries. According to the LGPL, I can profit from the work of those who created and maintain the LGPL libraries I used, but I do not have to share my source code or my profits with them. In fact, I can choose not to compensate the community in any way. That's greed, and it's evil. But it is the greed and the abuse of the LGPL that is evil, not the LGPL itself.

In fact, the only thing that comes close to being immune to evil exploitation is software licensed under the GPL. It isn't totally immune, but it is better than anything else in my list. That doesn't make everything else evil, however. It just makes everything else easier to abuse by evil people.

Linux, Linus, and GPLv3

There are a number of reasons why Linus Torvalds and others do not like the GPLv3 drafts. Let's take the example of its attempt to prevent Tivoization. TiVo uses Linux for its digital video recorder products. TiVo makes its modifications to the source code publicly available, as required by GPLv2. The term "Tivoization" describes the fact that you can't further modify the TiVo source code and make it run on TiVo hardware. TiVo uses a digital signature to prevent you from doing so. The Free Software Foundation objects to this. Linus Torvalds does not.

I side with Torvalds. The question is, should the GPL be modified in such a way that it prevents people from doing this in the future? Should the new GPLv3 prohibit anyone from modifying GPLv3 software such that you cannot further modify the software and then run it with your modifications on their hardware? [edit: "their" as in "the hardware they designed", not as in ownership after you buy it]

I hope that question sounds as silly to you as it does to me. What does the GPL have to do with hardware? Hopefully, nothing.

In fact, I am suspicious of the motives of anyone who wants to modify the GPL such that it forces vendors to redesign their appliances to conform to the Free Software Foundation's ideas of how such appliances should work. That sounds an awful lot like "when the attempt to satisfy one's own desire for power prohibits others from engaging in perfectly ethical practices". The only way to exonerate the FSF from such a charge would be to demonstrate that TiVo did something illegal or unethical by preventing people from running a modified copy of Linux on their boxes. I think that would be quite a challenge.

I don't know what motivated the folks at TiVo to implement this limitation, so I can't say with confidence that what they did is evil or benign. However, I believe TiVo complied with the GPLv2 by releasing its modifications to the source code for the benefit of anyone who wants to study them or use them. Some argue that the digital signature should be considered part of the modifications that TiVo must release. If so, TiVo is guilty as charged. But I don't see how a digital signature qualifies as source code, so that's a techniality that I'd rather let lawyers decide, if it should come to that.

Debian and Firefox

Mozilla wants to protect its trademark, which reflects its reputation. It is trying to do so by prohibiting anyone from distributing its browser under the name Firefox with the Firefox logo if they apply patches to the software that haven't been approved by the Mozilla team. Debian believes this goes against the spirit of free software. So Debian may distribute Firefox under a different name, along with a different logo and icon.

I'm not going to take sides on this one. I can sympathize with both Mozilla and Debian. If a distribution includes a patched version of Firefox that doesn't work very well, I can see how that may reflect unfairly on Firefox. On the other hand, distributions employ versions of the Linux kernel with custom patches all the time, and they still get to call it Linux and use the Tux logo. On the third hand, there's no way to get those patches into the standard Linux kernel unless the appropriate Linux developer signs off on the patches.

I think both sides are overreacting. Some distributions won't install on my workstation because of the way the kernel is configured or patched. That doesn't reflect badly on Linux. It reflects badly on the distribution. So Mozilla is probably being overly cautious. On the other hand, I don't see why Debian maintainers can't try to get their patches approved by the Mozilla team before they deploy them.

Regardless, if Debian renames Firefox, I suggest they name it Hotbeaver. No, it is not my intent to proliferate a sexual innuendo. I just happen to like beavers (thanks to my favorite cartoon, Angry Beavers), and "hot" is a substitute for fire. But if Hotbeaver offends anyone, then perhaps BlazingAardvark would be a good alternative. Someone on VarLinux.org suggested Hotdog. That would be good, too.

The moral of the story

Forget TiVo for a moment and take DRM. As you can see from my example above, I don't think it's possible to create a DRM scheme that would both protect copyrights and support fair use properly. So, at best, DRM is goint to be inconvenient to the consumer. At worst, it's an abomination. So I'm all for protesting DRM into oblivion.

But is it the job of the FSF to do that? If so, what does that have to do with the GPL? Nothing as far as I can see. If the FSF is going to protest DRM, it should create an anti-DRM division and leave it to those people to do so. As it is, the FSF is trying to cram all its personal agendas into a single license.

Edit: I like the way it was stated in an anonymous post below. It states it more clearly than I did...

The cause of ending the DRM is one thing (And I support that cause); Trying to achieve that by a software license is something else.

And I also VERY MUCH would like to :

- End all wars
- Destroy all nuclear weapons

Both of these things are a good ideea taken (and fought for ) individually. But when you try to put these beliefs in software licenses (thou shall not use this software for war ), then this all becomes crap/bullshit.

You see, lot's of people dislike NOT the DRM bashing itself, but piggybacking these ideea on a *software* license.

Finally, here's why I started out this piece with a definition of some of the evils in the software world. Some of you may have noticed that I can't even mention a commercial or proprietary software product, let alone praise it, without a few people (posting as Anonymous) screaming about how Linux Journal has abandoned its roots and should be burned at the virtual stake.

Why is the FSF cramming issues into the GPL that are arguably unrelated to the original intent of the GPL? Why does the mere mention of a commercial product elicit such vitriolic responses?

I have a feeling that, now that we have finally reached a point in history where most people realize that open source is a Good Thing, the people who used to have to fight over this issue are feeling marginalized and ignored. Perhaps they are feeding their need for attention by finding new controversies to exploit, or by seeking out ways to rail against anything that rubs their open source idealism the wrong way.

I, for one, am glad that we've reached a point where we don't have to fight as hard to make people understand the benefits of open source. Not everyone is educated, and not everyone who is educated at all is fully educated, but I'm glad it's not as big a struggle as it used to be.

I can only hope that people will understand the difference between fighting for the GPL and fighting about DRM. I can only hope that people who understand the superiority of open source will learn to be confident enough about it that they don't have to feel threatened by praise for something that is not open source. We all need to be careful to discern the difference between software, hardware, policies, licenses, and how they are used, and whether or not there is evil intent involved.

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yeah its

sinau's picture

original intent of the GPL

Anonymous's picture

About TiVo you said: "Why is the FSF cramming issues into the GPL that are arguably unrelated to the original intent of the GPL?"

This is not arguable, you are wrong, this was exactly the original intent of the GPL. The GPL stemmed from Stallman's frustration with code for a laser printer he was using which he wanted to change. His idea is that, if you buy a Tivo, you should be able to change the way the software works on excatly the item that you purchased.

There are other things wrong with your article, and other things right, and you can even continue to hold to the same conclusion that you have reached, but at least you should be accurate on such a fundamental idea.

Better Name For Browser...BlazingBeaverBrowser!

John and Dagny Galt's picture

.

BlazingBeaverBrowser!

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We think this is an

Home Refurbish Course's picture

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My XXX Ladies's picture

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A very good article.

new thumbs daily's picture

A very good article.

GPLv#

Dennis Kaptain's picture

Why all the fuss? I understand the great benefits of a standard license but why not just let the FSF do what they want with thier license. It belongs to them. If you don't like it. Don't use it. Release your project under GPLv2 or write your own license for your project.

Agree!

Nicholas Petreley's picture

Absolutely! I have no problem at all with the FSF creating whatever licenses they want. What I can't understand is why people are so angry over the fact that Linus and other kernel developers don't want to use the GPLv3. It's their choice. FSF is free to create whatever licenses they want. Linux developers are free to choose whatever license they want. Problem solved.

Naming for Debian's FireFox release

Clinton Oberholster's picture

Just as a matter of interest, the name HotDog has already been applied to a software package, proprietory, that is a great WYSIWYG web editor. Guess HotBeaver it is! :-)

New movement

FHF's picture

I have the solution. I am starting a new movment, the FHF, Free Hardware Foundation. We will take over the fight to keep hardware free from evil software users. Could you just send me lots of money to get started? Thanks!

Really though, the software is still free. If you want to make changes to the TiVo, build your own. All they really have to do really is just use software that is not G-3 licensed! This is not a real fix, it is a "Micrsoft answer". We are just forcing our way of life on others, just like they do. Now who is the bad guy?

About Debian and Firefox

mandioca's picture

A good deal of the patches Debian apply to firefox is to make the browser fit the distribution, so, its unlikely that the mozilla foundation would take them to the main browser source code. Neither side is overreacting. Debian is just following its guidelines and social contract. The solution is a good one: changing the name and logo. Debian keeps following its policies and mozilla foundation gets the trademark rights. Thank you for the sugestions for the names.

But...

Skiz's picture

Wouldn't Mozilla pretty much lose all trademark-ability when the name and logo are changed? How about we call it ColdTurkey? I'm a strong advocate of the GNU way of providing and applying and reporting security patches (among others) and sending them upstream (to the Mozilla team in this case) for application and review. Disallowing Debian/GNU to provide a package of Mozilla software with system or architecture specific patches is blasphemy. That's what a distribution is about-- Community Support. That also what OSS is all about, community involvement and review, public patches and the ability to provide users with security patches faster (or fast as) the upstream authors. Seriously people "lets not put seeds on the buns or we'll have to rename the chicken sandwich." if food for though...

Recipe to success?

Brainfood's picture

Mozilla would lose a lot if the name and logo were changed. We could really call it cold Turkey. I totally agree with the last comment for a reason, GNU as to stay the way it is.
If we put seeds on the buns, we'll need new chicken recipes. I think the trades would not be good for both Debian and Mozilla, but that's my opinion. The best way for both side to have food on the table is not Mozilla changing it's logo/name for sure, that would probably be the first step in the grave.

A hypothetical example

Nicholas Petreley's picture

Just a hypothetical situation:

Slammo Cell Phones invents a new CPU that is revolutionary for cell phones. Slammo decides not to market the CPU but gain a competitive advantage by basing all its own cell phones on the new chip. It creates its own compiler and uses Linux as the basis for the Slammo phone software. It makes all the source code, complete with Slammo modifications, available in compliance with the GPLv2.

You want to modify the source code and run your modified version on YOUR Slammo phone. You can't. You don't have the compiler. You don't have specifications for the chip in order to write a compiler.

So what you have is source code that you cannot modify and run on the hardware for which the unmodified source code was designed. There's no DRM. There's no digital signature. No DMCA. You just don't have a compiler that would generate the needed binary, and you have no way to buy or make one.

Now, I would argue that the GPL worked, because you can probably use some of the work Slammo did for a purpose other than running a modified version of the software on a Slammo phone. But let's ignore that for a moment.

My question is, what would FSF do in THAT case? Create a GPLv4 that says you can't use or modify GPLv4 code unless there's a publicly available compiler for your target platform? Write a GPLv4 to restrict people from compiling GPLv4 code with anything but GNU compilers?

People like to pretend Tivoization will eventually lead to closed general purpose computers. But what about the implications of GPLv3? How far will that go? Will there be a day when you're not allowed to use GPLv8 software unless your project meets all of the personal philosophical and political leanings of the FSF? Why not? That's freedom, isn't it?

The compiler is part of the 'source code'.

xoddam's picture

> You don't have the compiler.

Actually the GPLv2 requires that the relevant tools such as build scripts and compilers be available too, as part of the definition of 'source code' in section 3.

The compiler is mentioned explicitly by saying it need not be included if it is normally available as part of the operating system "on which the executable runs". That clearly implies that it should be included if it isn't normally available. And if the executable is for some exciting proprietary instruction set architecture -- then said compiler must target said architecture.

The language of the GPLv2 *already* extends the notion of 'source code' beyond the normally understood meaning of the term to include all the tools you need to build the executable. The GPLv3 merely takes it a step further to include also the tools (eg keys) required to actually use it. There is no departure from FSF tradition here.

Section 3 of GPL

Nicholas Petreley's picture

Good catch. Mea culpa. Here is section 3:

======================

3. You may copy and distribute the Program (or a work based on it, under Section 2) in object code or executable form under the terms of Sections 1 and 2 above provided that you also do one of the following:

a) Accompany it with the complete corresponding machine-readable source code, which must be distributed under the terms of Sections 1 and 2 above on a medium customarily used for software interchange; or,

b) Accompany it with a written offer, valid for at least three years, to give any third party, for a charge no more than your cost of physically performing source distribution, a complete machine-readable copy of the corresponding source code, to be distributed under the terms of Sections 1 and 2 above on a medium customarily used for software interchange; or,

c) Accompany it with the information you received as to the offer to distribute corresponding source code. (This alternative is allowed only for noncommercial distribution and only if you received the program in object code or executable form with such an offer, in accord with Subsection b above.)

The source code for a work means the preferred form of the work for making modifications to it. 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. 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.

If distribution of executable or object code is made by offering access to copy from a designated place, then offering equivalent access to copy the source code from the same place counts as distribution of the source code, even though third parties are not compelled to copy the source along with the object code.

========================

It only requires the scripts (like the makefiles, etc.). It explicitly makes things like the kernel and compiler an exception, and therefore not required if they are normally distributed with the binary. In my hypothetical example, they are not normally distributed with the binary.

That makes me wonder about those who distribute programs compiled with the Intel compiler. Do they include the Intel compiler? The Intel compiler isn't normally distributed with Linux distros.

Proprietary compiler

Craig Goodrich's picture

One moment now. Is it really true that the GPLv2 can't be used to license Windows programs written to M$'s Visual Studio? Because though VS is near-universal for Windows development, it's hardly "normally distributed with the OS."

I think that including the compiler under the "makefiles" clause is something of a stretch...

Software ?

K M Ashraf's picture

I went thru' all the arguments and counter arguments but I am lost on one thing. What good is software with out the hardware it is meant to run on. Software is useless till you put it in the hardware and make that hardware do something. They are not mutually exclusive. I am glad that RMS and the FSF are around to make sure that the FREE software that I can get can be made/modified to do what I want the hardware to. Maybe I would like the TIVO I 'own' get up and dance! If TIVO makers don't want me to do that then they should not use FREE software. What good would it have been if it was not possible to modify 'Linux' (GNU/Linux rightly) to run the varied hardware that it runs today. It's been modified to run a TIVO right? RMS and the FSF are only ensuring that it will be possible to continue to do so and prevent any 'evil' intentioned person/entity from taking away that freedom from the user. TIVO also happens to be a user and would not have been able to modify and use GNU/Linux. It is clear that it would not have been possible but for GPLv1 and 2. The GPL is/was quite clearly about 'freedom', and there can be no restrictions to this 'freedom' whatsoever. An uncomprising stand. (M K Gandhi was uncompromising on non-violence though there were many who disagreed). So I do agree that if there is any restriction such as the 'TIVO-sation' of GNU/Linux then it should be fought and prevented. By the GPLv3

While I think that adding

ragnar42's picture

While I think that adding restrictions that prohibit running modified software on your hardware is a brain-dead idea, it is not evil in the sense that Nicholas describes. However, would you want to buy hardware with such built in restrictions? What if your BIOS couldn't be flashed except with a certified version from the BIOS vendor, or if you could not install software on a hard drive that the drive vendor didn't distribute? I imagine there could be scenarios where that is desired by the customer, for example to combat viruses or malware in a corporate environment, but it's certainly something I don't want in hardware I own. Still, it's up to the hardware manufacturer how they implement or cripple their designs, not the software license. Is it in the Free Software Foundations purview to describe the tenets of Free Hardware? Richard Stallman described a while back his thoughts on Free Hardware. Customers retain the freedom to vote with their feet and ultimately why I don't own a TiVo.Obtaining hardware is like obtaining software. When you obtain a piece of software, either proprietary or free, there is an associated license agreement, a contract, between the creator/copy{left|right} owner and user/customer. If you don't agree to the license, you don't get any of the rights the license otherwise provides. The same is true of the hardware: if you don't like it's features, you don't buy it. Support hardware vendors who give you more freedom to play and avoid the ones that don't. I also agree that DRM is not evil, but it's unnecessary and silly. It's like asking your customers to put on handcuffs before entering your store in order to curb shoplifting. Again, customers will ultimately decide if that's a policy they're willing to live with and whether they will shop there anymore because of it. But, if everyone says, "no thank you, I do not want to put on handcuffs and be treated like a criminal just so I can buy a tube of toothpaste, I'll go shop next door," we can expect hopefully that in the interest of staying in business, the policy would be dropped. OTOH, I can't say definitively that there are no sensible applications for DRM, even though it implies an explicit lack of trust.

Enough ranting for now. Refute or rebut if it interests you.

ragnar

DRM

Nicholas Petreley's picture

DRM isn't always unnecessary. We've come to think of DRM as applying only to content (such as songs or movies). It applies to many other things, too, such as the process needed to update microcode on chips that can be modified, as Linus Torvalds pointed out in his arguments against GPLv3.

The DRM I hate most is DRM with respect to entertainment content. It doesn't usually stop people who are determined to steal the content, and it annoys the heck out of honest people like me who just want to engage in fair use.

I don't want to have to jump through hoops to make a backup copy of my games and DVDs. I have kids. They scratch disks. I want backups for just such occasions.

I don't get this question I see repeated ad nauseum

Nicholas Petreley's picture

What good is software with out the hardware it is meant to run on.

Plenty. There's lots of good stuff TiVo added to the software that people can cherry-pick for their own use.

I really don't get this question. Linux runs on everything from mainframes to wristwatches. Why? Because people took the time and effort to make the changes necessary to make it run on a new platform. If you want to use the TiVo code and you don't want to hack the TiVo BIOS or do whatever else is necessary, make the changes necessary for it to run a PC with a capture card. Or just grab the modifications TiVo made that you like and use them in your own project.

How this affects end users

Nicholas Petreley's picture

The end users are those who own a TiVo, right?

I'd love to see the results of this poll of TiVo owners:

1. On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the happiest possible, how happy are you with your TiVo?

2. Are you angry or frustrated by the fact TiVo has built its hardware in an attempt to prevent from modifying the source code for TiVo and run your modified version on your TiVo box?

a. yes
b. somewhat
c. no
d. who cares, go away
e. modifying the what?

Of course, this argument

Rufus Polson's picture

Of course, this argument could be as compellingly made in favour of Microsoft products.

Maybe

Nicholas Petreley's picture

Maybe, but that's not as relevant as this: This argument could be made (and be just as compelling) in favor of any appliance, like a TV, Microwave, your PVR-enabled cable box (which you can't modify), cell phone, etc. In case you haven't noticed, TiVo is an appliance, too. It's not a general purpose computer.

The TiVo source code

Nicholas Petreley's picture

If TiVo series 3 uses Linux, wouldn't that mean they'd have to publish the drivers for HDMI and/or HDTV component inputs? Wouldn't that help developers write similar drivers for HDMI/HDTV capture cards if they ever materialize? Obviously the drivers wouldn't work as is, but the code would help, wouldn't it?

My point is that, in addition to many other things (like the UI code, etc.) the TiVo source code has a lot of good stuff in it people can use if they want. Maybe series 3 will add more good stuff people could use. It's not useless code just because it's too hard to run it on a TiVo box.

About Tivo and GPL, a question

Marc Nadeau's picture

Could we foresee in a near future and other harware maker building TV devices that uses Tivo modification to the kernel buth without the limitations that Tivo implements.
In short, is there a place for a more user frienly Tivo competitor?

Maybe, but I don't think so

Nicholas Petreley's picture

User friendly to whom? Hackers? How many of those are there to constitute a big enough market to draw people away from TiVo? Aside from hackers, TiVo is incredibly user friendly.

I think TiVo's approach is motivated in part by the demands of the business model, which would be common to anyone who produces this kind of device, and in part due to the demands of partners, who won't work with TiVo unless they protect stuff with DRM. TiVo may even be required against its preferences to use DRM in some places in order to comply with legalities due to DMCA (which is really what people should be fighting directly, not indirectly through software licenses).

Second, cable cards could make the business of selling DVRs even harder. This all remains to be seen, but supposedly we'll be able to plug a cable card in our PC, and that will take the place of our cable box, even offering multiple tuners, etc. There WILL be DRM involved, in that the cable card won't decrypt cable channels unless we pay for cable services. But if people can write Linux drivers for them, it won't be long until we have a great substitute for TiVo in open source that runs on a regular PC with a cable card.

Third, cable boxes with built-in DVRs are already grabbing a big portion of TiVo's former market share. I have one, and I have an old TiVo. I REALLY prefer the TiVo interface (there's no comparison) but the cable box records shows at higher quality, so that's what I use.

TiVo is about to release it's series 3 box that does HDTV, and does it better than cable box DVRs (or so they say). So maybe TiVo has a chance there. But if cable cards work as well as they're supposed to work, then TiVo isn't going to gain much market share. It'll probably hover where it is or lose some.

How much simpler this would have been ...

Noah F. San Tzorbutz's picture

if Tivo had been based on FreeBSD.

To reply, remove SCOG modus operendi from E-Mail address.

locked hardware = no freedom

Farnsworth's picture

The Tivo issue is key to the future of free software. If you can't run modified software on locked hardware, what good is the software? If vendors are allowed to reach past the point of sale and into our homes to control what we do with our own property, wouldn't you call that at the very least extremely overreaching and wrong, if not evil?

In a truly competitive marketplace it would be enough to say "buy something else." But thanks to microsoft we do not have a competitive tech market. Microsoft and the entertainment industry are pushing DRM very strongly- strongarming suppliers and vendors, and buying horrible laws like the DMCA, which aim to put you in jail for modifying YOUR OWN PROPERTY. We can't even escape overseas, as the US is very busy forcing other countries to adopt similar restrictions.

I do not know if GPL3 is the best way to fight DRM. I just know that the move to lock hardware is a very smart, calculated move to render free software irrelevant.

What good is it?

Nicholas Petreley's picture

If you can't run modified software on locked hardware, what good is the software?

No, if you can't run modified software on locked hardware, then you probably don't want that hardware.

What good is the software? Download it and find out. You don't need to buy a TiVo to download it. Look at it. I'll bet there's some great stuff in there you could use for your own DVR software project. TiVo has one of the best program guides and methods for selecting programs to record. I'd bet that, with a lot of work, you could lift those parts out of the code and use a modified version of those bits in your DVR project that runs on a PC with a capture card.

Thanks to the GPL, you have the right to do that. If you don't like the fact that it isn't easy to make your project run on a TiVo box, don't buy one. But that's a hardware issue, not a software issue.

Well, no, technically the

Rufus Polson's picture

Well, no, technically the GPL doesn't give you the right to have or modify the source code unless they distribute the program to you first, and they only distribute the program with the hardware. In practice you can probably get your hands on it--it's easier for people distributing GPL software to just put it up on the web and be done with it than to mess around, and if they didn't someone else who had bought a Tivo could redistribute the source if they wanted.

But what strikes me about this argument is that it is dividing recipients of the software basically into the worthy and the unworthy. Either you're a professional developer who knew in advance that what he wanted to do was rewrite the software, or you're unimportant. Now, looking at Stallman's original "snapped" moment where he decided that Free software was important, what strikes one is precisely that it was unplanned--he was confronted with a proprietary driver on a printer he had to use, and he couldn't get done what he wanted to get done because he wasn't free to do so. It occurs to me that he would have been in precisely the same situation had it been merely a Tivo-ized printer driver.
It also strikes me that your argument for GPL not stopping Tivo-ization is at odds both with your earlier discussion of evil and the GPL and with the basic ideas behind the GPL. Your initial point struck me as very sound--the strength of the GPL is that it prevents nearly all evil/exploitative things being done with software. And indeed, that's exactly what it's for. More precisely, and this is what you seem to be ignoring, the GPL is a tool for ensuring that anytime someone gets GPL software, they gain the core freedoms that the FSF is philosophically committed to. And, I might add, not just if they happen to be a hotshot developer whose purpose in acquiring the software is to do software development. No, the idea is that *everyone* deserves the same freedoms and *everyone* should get them.

Now, it may be true that if I'm a developer whose plan is to take some other device and make it act like a Tivo, I'm free to use the Tivo source code to do it without even buying a Tivo. Ironically, that isn't even a freedom the GPL is intended to protect. But it is also true that if I'm just someone who got a Tivo and it's driving me nuts that it won't do X, Y or Z and I happen to be able to program or know someone does and who'll do me a favour in return for me building him a bookshelf, I can't fix the problem because Tivo won't let me. That means some of the core software freedoms the FSF is dedicated to are denied to me. That means the point of the GPL, the purpose Stallman and the FSF were pursuing in creating the GPL--to give everyone those freedoms--is being defeated. It's as simple as that. Which in turn means that from the FSF point of view, it's precisely true that GPL V2 is failing to prevent some evil and exploitation that it's intended to prevent, and therefore from the perspective of the GPL being a good license because it prevents such abuses, the GPL V3 would be a better license because it prevents more such abuses.

There is the point that this restriction is accomplished through the use of hardware. Yeah, and? What's the difference? The piece of hardware effectively acts like a little tiny annex of black-box code. You could accomplish precisely the same task, operating in most respects the same way, purely in software. Normal proprietary software does so all the time. But of course Tivo can't do exactly the same thing in software because then it would unambiguously violate the GPL (version 2).

Frankly, I think your argument is unconsciously elitist. You're a tech journalist and tech company guy, you deal with serious IT people and core hackers on major projects and so on. I think it's time for some people to remember that there are other people in the world that the GPL is intended to benefit. And if I'm in Uruguay and my school got some shipment of second hand machines and one of them happens to be a Tivo and I'm trying to get it to feed video to all these mismatched critters with different screens, etc., your exhortation that I should just buy some different hardware to run it on so that I can spend six months adapting the program to the new hardware before I can even start solving my problem isn't exactly useful. Maybe I could eat some cake while I'm at it. Heck, I personally am a middle class North American with an unusually small mortgage--and I'd think long and hard before buying one Tivo. There's no way I can go around springing for a spare set of hardware so I can try to work around anything I don't like about the first one. But many of the arguments flying around assume people like me don't count--really, just beneath the surface I get the impression that we don't count because we're just a bunch of Lusers, although that isn't what's being said.

Whoo. Long diatribe.
Point is, in order to say Tivoization is OK and the GPL shouldn't address it, one has to ignore any idea that the GPL is, and should be, intended to grant software freedom--to ALL users of the software.

skirting the issue

farnsworth's picture

How about addressing the points I raised, instead of wandering back into what you already said? Like vendors controlling products beyond the point of sale, which by itself should be enough, but apparently you don't think it matters. Like not having hardware choices, thanks to Microsoft et al aggressively lobbying for, and getting, laws that criminalize what we do with our own property? And their own collusion towards lockin and control? We already have limited choices in the computer hardware market, and they are getting slimmer. There is not a competitive tech marketplace. Don't tell me you're unaware of these things.

Maybe GPL3 is the tool to combat this, maybe not. But sticking your head in the sand and chanting "just buy something else" is not something that is going to work.

Bravo!

Penguin Pete's picture

Thank you for the insightful commentary. I was going to blog about these two topics, but you've said it better for me.

My one point to add is that the GPLv2 will still be available after the GPLv3 comes out, and nobody can force developers to choose one over the other. So I'm less incensed at the GPLv3 committee, as long as nobody has to use it I'm happy if they release a new license every day.

Now, there's this:
"I can only hope that people who understand the superiority of open source will learn to be confident enough about it that they don't have to feel threatened by praise for something that is not open source."

But let's not delude ourselves that the fight is over. There are still commercial interests out there dedicated to squashing our digital freedoms night and day. It is worth being passionate about, because the decisions we make today affect future generations. In light of such struggle, you may be sure that not nearly as many FOSS advocates would be in such an uproar, if they weren't so under attack.

Right on, bro

Nicholas Petreley's picture

But let's not delude ourselves that the fight is over. There are still commercial interests out there dedicated to squashing our digital freedoms night and day. It is worth being passionate about, because the decisions we make today affect future generations. In light of such struggle, you may be sure that not nearly as many FOSS advocates would be in such an uproar, if they weren't so under attack.

Absolutely. I just think the best strategy is to fight those battles separately. I'm all for an anti-DRM campaign. I'm simply not for trying to beat DRM by adopting a GPL license with anti-DRM clauses. I don't care if the FSF creates GPLv3, but I sure don't want to see Linux use it.

What's your problem with GPLv3?

Freeman's picture

The GPL is a software license, and as such, does not restrict how hardware is used in any way, only how software is used, so please dispense with this strawman argument for good!

The original purpose of the GPL and the formation of the FSF is to promote freedom in the use of software whose developers want it to remain free. I've explained how RMS's original printer driver problem and subsequent development of the GPL relates to the Tivo issue here and here. Tivo may not be violating the letter of GPLv2 -- I think there are enough reasonable arguments on both sides that it would make a good court case -- but they are definitely violating the spirit of the license.

The GPL in all it's versions are attempts to offer software developers a legal way of restricting how their software will be used by others, so that it remains free for others to use in the ways the software developers intend.

GPLv3 attempts to close the Tivo loophole. It does not supercede GPLv1 or 2, it complements them. A software developer is free to choose from among them and others when deciding how he wants his software licensed for use. Apparently Linus and other Linux kernel developers prefer GPLv2 - good for them! Good for Tivo corp. too, but not so good for those who contributed to the Linux kernel and now find themselves unable to use their own code in a way they would like to be able to, and thought their chosen license would protect. If I were one of those developers I would be considering legal action against Tivo to protect that right or force them to quit using my software for those purposes.

You acknowledge Tivo's right to restrict the use of the hardware they design, but seem to ignore that software developers also have the right to restrict the use of the software they design. If a software developer wants to use a license that restricts against the use of their software in non-free ways, why shouldn't they be free to do so? And why shouldn't the FSF be free to develop and promote such a license?

Since Tivo wants to lock down their hardware, they should develop their own software instead of using software intended to be used without such lock-down restrictions, just like Microsoft did with the X-Box and Sony with the Playstation. The GPL does not restrict Tivo's right to design their hardware to their liking in any way, it just attempts to restrict their ability to abuse free software in this way.

Radical Open Source Fundamentalist . . . .

Anonymous's picture

In response to "What's your problem with GPLv3?", "locked hardware = no freedom", and similar comments.

So what's your message? You seem to be advocating that no group has any control on how their open-source-implementing products are used, if said product rubs somebody in the open source community the wrong way.

Tivo has complied with the GPLv2 by releasing their changes to the open source code they used. If I owned a Tivo, I'd like to be able to hack the product to my hearts content with all sorts of open source goodness; but it would make the product completely unsupportable and unmanageable by their company. Contrary to what you're preaching, I'm not inclined to subvert the rights of any company (particularly one that is apparently complying with the GPL) for my own personal benefit.

I'm sure you've heard, from Micro$oft and other less than enlightened individuals, the arguement that "Open source software is communist." Well guess what buddy, your position tends to validate that otherwise rediculous arguement. In my mind, it's YOU that violate the spirit of "open source software", although not necessarily the spirit of the GPL - as evidenced by the current movement of the FSF in the GPLv3.

It's pretty evident that the FSF supports this more radical (and to me less productive) view of what "free software" should mean, but taking away an organizations rights on how their product can be used to serve your own philosophical imperative is every bit as "evil" to me as improperly restricting the fair use of media with overly restrictive DRM. You're just the other side of the same coin, my friend; an unhealthy extreme taken in the opposite direction. Don't misunderstand me, I will fight DRM every step of the way, but I believe your anarchist approach is just as counterproductive.

Ultimately, your extremist position will seriously hurt the adoption of open source software by the world at large, as no company in their right mind will develop a product they don't have SOME small level of practical control over. Further, no homebrewed open source product without some corporate support has a chance of being widely useful to anyone outside of the propeller-head community.

I believe the author of this article was simply asking that we all take a deep breath, and step back from the edge of the abyss. It's time to stop fighting the holy war, and start focusing on what's in the best interests of the "open source movement" - and more importantly, THE PEOPLE (PRIVATE AND CORPORATE) who should benefit from an open source model of development. Like any other model, this is only beneficial when it's applied to (and not beyond) the point of being beneficial and supportable. Pushed beyond that point, it becomes an anchor around the neck of anyone actually trying to use the code to provide a benefit to others. AND THAT IS REALLY THE WHOLE POINT, ISN'T IT?

Open-source isn't even part of the debate!

Freeman's picture

I couldn't give a rat's ass about the "open-source movement". It's freedom I'm concerned with. If you want to understand my point, you'll need to understand the difference between free software and open-source.

It's pretty evident that the FSF supports this more radical (and to me less productive) view of what "free software" should mean, but taking away an organizations rights on how their product can be used to serve your own philosophical imperative is every bit as "evil" to me as improperly restricting the fair use of media with overly restrictive DRM.

The FSF doesn't concern itself with "productivity", it concerns itself with freedom. I've not made the argument that Linux should switch licenses, that's their freedom of choice. I've made the argument that I recognize the need for an update to the GPL to counter tactics like those used by Tivo.

You make the same strawman argument Petreley makes. Nothing in the GPLv1, 2, or the proposed v3 "tak[es] away an organizations rights on how their product can be used". They all serve to restrict rights on how the software can be used.

Like I argued here, Apparently Linus and other Linux kernel developers prefer GPLv2 - good for them! Good for Tivo corp. too, but not so good for those who contributed to the Linux kernel and now find themselves unable to use their own code in a way they would like to be able to, and thought their chosen license would protect. If I were one of those developers I would be considering legal action against Tivo to protect that right or force them to quit using my software for those purposes.

How is that extreme, or communist, or a violation of the "spirit of the GPL"?

Helping Linux

Sam_AU's picture

If we go now and tell Tivo that they are not going to be able to use Linux to power their products do you know what they will do? They will stop developing under Linux and possibly move to some crap like Windows... and i dont think thats good. I would much rather be able to see the source code, copy parts i need from it and make my modification. They have made a lot of progress and im intrested in seeing what they have to offer the community. If they are told they cant keep some parts 'private' i can assure you they will pull the funding and no more ready made code for us, we will have to get people to manually do it. Thats my 2 cents.

Re: Helping Linux

Branden Robinson's picture

If we go now and tell Tivo that they are not going to be able to use Linux to power their products do you know what they will do? They will stop developing under Linux and possibly move to some crap like Windows... and i dont think thats good.

So, you can just buy something else.

What's good for the goose...

Other choices for Tivo

W. Anderdon's picture

You forget that there are other viable choices for Tivo other than the GNU/Linux software. How about *BSD, including Darwin?

Believe me, there are and always have been good software available for many purposes, especially embedded systems, other than from Microsoft, which is unfortunately the only name most people are aware of.

W. Anderson

Exactly

Nicholas Petreley's picture

I'm glad it looks like the Linux kernel developers aren't going to adopt GPLv3. If they did, all it would accomplish is to drive a big portion of the market to abandon Linux and opt for a proprietary operating system or *BSD. The community wouldn't benefit from their work in any way. And contrary to the whiners who can't imagine how TiVo's software could possibly be useful if you can't run it on TiVo hardware, as you point out, you CAN benefit from TiVo's modifications today. If TiVo moves to a proprietary platform, we'd lose that.

Correction: Radical "Free Software" Fundamentalist . . . .

Anonymous's picture

I apologize. You're absolutely right, I shouldn't have equated your "Free Software" zealotry for any interest in the open source movement.

Please don't misquote me; as I said, I feel you are violating the spirit of "open source software," not necessarily the "spirit of the GPL." And as you've so eloquently stated, you don't give a rats ass about the open source movement.

This is dissapointing, as the open source movement is the practical manifestation of the less fanatic concepts of "freedom" you profess to be concerned with. Please don't misunderstand me, I value the contributions of the FSF, and similar groups. But I still believe it's important to take a step back and look at the larger picture after ideologue's such as yourself have come in ranting about their absolute rights to the absolute freedom of absolutely everything.

"If I were one of those developers I would be considering legal action against Tivo to protect that right or force them to quit using my software for those purposes."

You're assuming rights that the GPL doesn't (and shouldn't) grant. The right for you to dictate, in perpetuity, how, where, and for what purpose "your code" gets used. You've completely missed the whole point, and just demonstrated that your "Free Software" zealotry is fundamentally flawed.

What you're saying is that "freedom isn't free unless I agree with how it is used, otherwise develop your own solution - I won't let you freely use my free code." How are you any different than Tivo protecting their hardware platform? Worse than that, how are you any different than DRM???

If you release software as open source, under the GPLv2, you've granted the FREEDOM of other developers to use that code, with proper credit, in nearly any way they like - as long as they contribute back their changes to the community. It's irresponsible and delusional for anyone to believe they should have control over how their freely contributed "creation" gets used by anyone after those conditions are met.

I should be allowed fair use to my purchased media, just like I should be allowed to hack a Tivo box I purchase. But this in no way detracts from their right to void my warranty if I do so, or to use free software to create their product to their specifications. That's why I believe the DMCA is an "evil" peice of legislation: it unlawfully restricts my fair use of media or hardware I've purchased the right to do with as I see fit (within certain bounds). You would impose these same types of restrictions on Tivo for excercising some control over their platform.

It seems to me this has much less to do with "Freedom" than it does with your own interests. If you don't like a platform that restricts your "freedom," then don't use it. But crafting new licence agreements to guarantee that you can dictate under any circumstance how others use your "free" creation makes you every bit as bad as the big media and DMCA supporters - you're just the other side of the same coin - and that's where you give the "communist" arguement supporters some credibility. You are your own worst enemy, my friend.

Its a shame to see this discussion deteriorate to a collective monologue. I won't trouble you with any more of my "strawman" arguements, but I do hope people reading your diatribe are sensible enough to see the larger issues beyond the zealotry.

Bingo

Nicholas Petreley's picture

You're assuming rights that the GPL doesn't (and shouldn't) grant. The right for you to dictate, in perpetuity, how, where, and for what purpose "your code" gets used. You've completely missed the whole point, and just demonstrated that your "Free Software" zealotry is fundamentally flawed.

What you're saying is that "freedom isn't free unless I agree with how it is used, otherwise develop your own solution - I won't let you freely use my free code." How are you any different than Tivo protecting their hardware platform? Worse than that, how are you any different than DRM???

Bingo. That is exactly what abuse of DRM does. It restricts the user from using the content in a way other than the content provider dictates. That's the thrust of GPLv3. You can only use GPLv3 software the way the FSF deems appropriate. That is entirely different than the thrust of the GPL pre-v3. The GPL pre-v3 doesn't dictate how you can or cannot use the software. It only requires that you give back to the community anything you change or add.

(I say "abuse" of DRM because, as others have pointed out elsewhere, there are actually good uses of DRM, but most people equate DRM with the bad, and understandably so.)

Such misunderstanding explains the article

Ookaze's picture

The GPL pre-v3 doesn't dictate how you can or cannot use the software. It only requires that you give back to the community anything you change or add

BS. The GPL pre-v3 DOES dictate how you can or cannot use the software, which is exactly the purpose of a software license.
How can one write something sensible about a license without even understanding what a license is ?
The GPL v3 is exactly in the same spirit.
And I still wonder who you people are to decide for others that they don't use the GPLv3. What's the problem exactly, do you fear this license ?
Nothing prevents you from using GPLv2 for your code, others have the right to use GPLv3. Do you want to remove them this right ?
What is the purpose of all these articles that don't want GPLv3 ?

Context

Nicholas Petreley's picture

BS. The GPL pre-v3 DOES dictate how you can or cannot use the software, which is exactly the purpose of a software license.

I don't know. I keep reading the GPL and I still don't see any clause that includes any restrictions on how I can use the executable produced from GPL source code. I especially can't find the clause that says I must provide a guarantee with my GPL code that the executable from any derivative work you produce from my GPL code must be able to run on the hardware I designed it to run on.

Maybe you can quote from the GPL the parts that I missed.

Actually, he's right.

OrlandoNative's picture

The GPL has (up to this point) NEVER been a 'usage' license, per se. It has always covered 'distribution'. While a distributer CAN also be a user, a user does not have to be a distributor.

Indeed, the requirement to 'give back' modifications and changes, isn't even there. What the license DOES SAY, however, is that *IF* you modify code licensed under this license AND YOU DISTRIBUTE THAT CODE FURTHER then you must make the source of your modifications available to those whom you distributed the modified code to. In other words, it's really a 'give forward' requirement.

Now, practically, since anyone who received that code has similar distribution rights, this tends to mean that changes *DO* make their way back 'upstream'; but THAT IS NOT A REQUIREMENT OF THE LICENSE.

As for what a 'pure' user can do, there are NO restrictions, as long as no further distribution is done. They can run it unmodified, modify it, whatever, but they have no (legal) responsibility to give ANYTHING back to the community.

Everyone here seems to place a great deal of emphasis on 'intent'. But the fact of the matter is that 'intent' doesn't mean much in license law. The wording of the clauses take precedence over intent, unless they are vague. GPLv2 isn't vague in the least; as many folks have noted it's VERY simple and VERY clear. If the 'intent' of the license isn't explicitly spelled out in it's wording, that's not the licensee's fault. That's the licensor's fault. And no one elses.

That's why they've come up with a new version

Rufus Polson's picture

So you're saying that if the intent of GPL V2 isn't explicitly spelled out in the wording, that's the FSF's fault and no one else's--
BUT they shouldn't be going around trying to fix that by making a new version.

As to usage--both version 2 and 3 cover what *distributors* have to let *users* do, and both do not restrict what *users* can do in any way. Tivo can fiddle around with keys and hardware as much as they want in their own offices, just as they can put binaries on their office computers that the employees never get to see the source code from. As soon as they *distribute* the code to *users*, they aren't the user any more. And at that point, the GPL V3 explicitly says there's a restriction they can't put on the *user* they *distributed* the software to, which the GPL V2 did not explicitly mention. This is loophole-filling, it is in no way a change in the spirit of the license.

> and the end result may be

Anonymous's picture

> and the end result may be that Debian will distribute Firefox under a different name.

But Debian (like most distros) doesn't actually distribute Firefox, they distribute a browser based on modified Firefox source code.

Debian should've been forced to stop claiming that the browser is Firefox a long time ago because their browser is harming the reputation of Firefox (extensions fail, perfomance problems).

You wouldn't want either that someone comes around and claims to be you...

Regards,
Nicholas Petreley

Comity and Reputation

Branden Robinson's picture

Debian should've been forced to stop claiming that the browser is Firefox a long time ago...

The possibility arose. Gervase Markham, of the Mozilla Foundation, told Debian that what they were doing, removing the logos but keeping the Firefox name, was okay. You should be aware of this, as it was mentioned in the discussion of the bug that Mike Connor of MozCorp filed.

In other words, Debian and the Mozilla Foundation were expressing the exact sort of comity that you decried them for lacking in your article. ("I think both sides are overreacting.")

That the issue has been reopened with a more contentious attitude was not Debian's doing.

because their browser is harming the reputation of Firefox (extensions fail, perfomance problems).

I don't believe Mike Connor cited this as a reason for MozCorp wishing to bring this enforcement action against Debian. Can you cite your source, please?

Mike Connor characterized his action as being motivated by the facts that Debian uses the Firefox word mark but not the corresponding logo, and that Debian does not follow the patch-review procedure that Mozilla demands.

If you're aware other relevant facts that have not been brought to light, is it not your journalistic prerogative, or even responsibility, to bring them to your readers' attention?

Identity theft

Nicholas Petreley's picture

If you're aware other relevant facts that have not been brought to light, is it not your journalistic prerogative, or even responsibility, to bring them to your readers' attention?

You are aware, aren't you, that you're responding to a post from someone who was masquerading as me to make his point?

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