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SubjectRe: Linux GPL and binary module exception clause?
"Richard B. Johnson" <root@chaos.analogic.com> wrote:

> > So does this exception clause exist or not? If not, how can the binary
> > modules be valid for use under Linux if the source is not made available
> > under the terms of the GNU GPL?
>
> I'll jump into this fray first stating that it is really great that
> the CEO of a company that is producing high-performance graphics
> cards and acceleration software is interested in finding out this
> information. It seems that some other companies just hack together
> some general-purpose source-code under GPL and then link it with a
> secret object file.

Well one of the primary reasons we are interested in researching this is
because we are in the process of preparing to release the SciTech SNAP
DDK under the GNU GPL license (dual licensed for proprietry developers),
and want to understand the ramifications of this approach. I must say I
am surprised to see that such a clause does not exist, since binary only
modules seem to be pretty abundant in the community.

Then again the whole 'derived works' clause in the GPL is a huge gray
area IMHO, and even just sitting there arguing with myself I can come up
with pretty good arguments in both directions for why a binary only
module is legal or not. Especially when the only reference to this in the
GNU GPL FAQ is about plugins, and they use a really silly distinction
about whether a plugin uses fork/exec or not. I mean if you use fork/exec
to start the plugin, yet the plugin uses RPC and shared memory to
communicate with the main process, that is the same as local procedure
calls and local memory IMHO.

> > Lastly I noticed that the few source code modules I looked at to see if
> > the exception clause was mentioned there, did not contain the usual GNU
> > GPL preable section at the top of each file. IMHO all files need to have
> > such a notice attached, or they are not under the GNU GPL (just being in
> > a ZIP/tar achive with a COPYING file does not place a file under the GNU
> > GPL). Given all the current legal stuff going on with SCO, I figured
> > every file would have such a header. In fact some of the files I looked
> > at didn't even contain a basic copyright notice!!
>
> I have been told by lawyers who do intellectual property law for a
> living that under US Copyright law, the INSTANT that something is
> written anywhere in a manner that allows it to be read back, it is
> protected by the writer's default copyright protection.

Yes of course, but if there is no notice in the file, who is the
copyright holder? Only the original author knows for sure, and for
someone to *use* that file without permission from the original author
would be inviting a lawsuit.

> The writer may alter that protection or even assign ownership to
> something or somebody else, but nobody needs to put a copyright
> notice anywhere in text. Now, if you intend to sue, before that
> suit starts, the text must be registered with the United States
> Copyright Office. In that case, it still doesn't need a copyright
> notice or the famous (c) specified by the act. It just needs to be
> identified by the writer, like:
>
> File: TANGO.FOR Created 12-DEC-1988 John R. Doe
>
> Grin... from my VAX/VMS days.

Right, but there are files in the source code with *nothing* at the top.
No copyright header, not notice of who wrote the file, nothing.

In my opinion, unless a specific source file has a copyright notice
attached to it and specifically says 'you are licensed to use this file
under the terms of the GNU GPL - see the COPYING file' etc, then that
file is *not* under the GNU GPL. What that means is that I would have
zero rights to use that file without direct permission from the author,
and realistically should not use it.

If there are lots of files like that in the Linux kernel, then that means
that none of us really have the right to use Linux on our machines!
Yikes. Considering that all GNU projects contain this type of header, I
have always just assumed the Linux kernel source code would too.
Especially now with this SCO debacle going on.

Regards,

---
Kendall Bennett
Chief Executive Officer
SciTech Software, Inc.
Phone: (530) 894 8400
http://www.scitechsoft.com
~ SciTech SNAP - The future of device driver technology! ~

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