Everyone who cares about the continued smooth running of the free software world where communities of independent parties gather around working on projects as we do in KDE or Linux should keep an eye on recent developments.

The VMWare case has a Linux developer suing VMWare for using Linux as part of their proprietary product.  Harald ‘LaForge’ Welte has a nice write up on his blog.  It will define how much modification can be done and then whether linking to a modified Linux build will be a derived work of the original.

The other one is Canonical who have announced it plans to ship zfs with Ubuntu.  An employee wrote in a confusing blog post “As we have already reached the conclusion, we are not interested in debating license compatibility, but of course welcome the opportunity to discuss the technology.” but in linking to differing opinions feels the need to highlight “please bear in mind that these are opinions.”  The Software Freedom Conservancy wrote an post discussing why it was a derived work and why that’s illegal to distribute.  And the SFLC’s Eben Moglen wrote another one which based on a link from Dustin’s blog is the opinion they are replying upon for thinking everything is ok.  Eben’s blog post is fascinating and makes for page turning bed-time reading by going into exactly why it’s a derived work.  It all depends on “literal interpretation of GPLv2’s system library exception” and that based on that

If there exists a consensus among the licensing copyright holders to prefer the literal meaning to the equity of the license, the copyright holders can, at their discretion, object to the distribution of such combinations. They would be asserting not that the binary so compiled infringes their copyright, which it does not, but that their exclusive right to the copying and redistribution of their source code, on which their copyright is maximally strong, is infringed by the publication of a source tree which includes their code under GPLv2 and ZFS filesystem files under CDDL, when that source tree is offered to downstream users as the complete and corresponding source code for the GPL’d binary.

Which nicely explains why an unlinked nvidia driver is ok but a linked zfs driver is not.

Canonical are already distributing Linux illegally because their previous Intellectual Property Policy claimed additional restrictions which do not exist so they have lost the right to copy it under the GPL 2 licence.  My guess would be that they realised nobody much cared about that and reasoned they had nothing more to lose.

I can’t find zfs in the Ubuntu archive or queue, as an archive admin I would of course reject it as it’s not compatible with Ubuntu’s policy.


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5 thoughts on “GPL Fun”

  1. Have you selectively quoted Moglen & Choudhary’s article to fit an argument you had in mind before reading it?

    A little further further in Moglen & Choudhary’s article they state “Clarity on the matter beyond the current state of affairs is certainly desirable. If the kernel copyright holders choose to clarify their interpretation publicly, certainty will immediately result. If they do not object privately or publicly to current behavior by other parties, the equity of the license will eventually come to be seen as the measuring rod, and relative certainty will also eventuate.”

    That seems perfectly reasonable and respectful of rights, given the limitations of the situation. Perhaps you prefer a more literal reading of the GPLv2 rather than taking into account its equity or its spirit, which if true would place you contra Moglen and Stallman.

  2. I’ve been running Kubuntu 14.04 off a ZFS root (with an Ext3 /boot) for years now, and I can only applaud Ubuntu for deciding to support it. ZFS is great and has a number of advantages btrfs can as yet only dream of, among which maturity and not being tied to a Linux kernel. It could however benefit from Canonical’s resources to gain in terms of optimisation and performance.
    I don’t know how the ZoL team thinks about this, but those pesky licensing issues should exist only to be dealt with ASAP (IOW, get a life :p)

  3. > “If they do not object privately or publicly to current behavior by other parties, the equity of the license will eventually come to be seen as the measuring rod, and relative certainty will also eventuate.”

    This is the most important part – it’s effectively saying that if kernel copyright holders don’t want to sue Canonical, then the situation can be perfectly acceptable – furthermore in the case of the ambiguity that exists, the compatibility of the licenses can be established de-facto by respective license holders simply mutually agreeing that the licenses are compatible.

    In other words – the situation is fine as long as no one wants to be a dick about it. There is precisely zero benefit to anyone in creating a conflict over the license while tons of people want ZFS.

  4. The GPL remains the #1 reason why it’s always a smarter choice to bet on FreeBSD or other BSD-/MIT-licensed products/projects for commercial use. I doubt that the Nas4Free Folks will ever have a discussion – or lawsuit – like this.

    Putting the Linux kernel under the GPL was a very, very bad idea at the time. I never understood when Linus said that he “was afraid that somebody would take away Linux”. Did somebody ever “take away” FreeBSD? Yes, Apple built something on top of FreeBSD that they didn’t have to share with the world anymore – but the original FreeBSD was still there for everybody else, so nobody took anything away. Did Apple take away SQLite (which is in the Public Domain) when they integrated it into Aperture? No, it’s still there for everybody to use.

    Unless you want to force a certain ideology down your user’s throats, there absolutely is no upside to choosing the GPL as your license model. Putting something under the GPL only means that you’re not really willing to share – you want something back in case somebody wants to build something else on top of your work. That’s not really the spirit of “free” and “open” – it’s the spirit of restriction. “GPL No Fun” would be more fitting.

  5. Eben Moglen’s view, to solve this antinomy, is to invoke equity. Sometimes this approach simply doesn’t work because of open hostility between developers (CDRtools). It would be interesting to know what Eben Moglen has to say in that case, particularly.

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