RE: Linux GPL and binary module exception clause?
From: Jason Kingsland
Date: Wed Dec 03 2003 - 18:25:15 EST
Kendall Bennett 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?
The exception does not exist, at least not as a clearly stated license
ammendment or similar.
There was some email discussion on this topic with input from the various
Linux contributors some time back, but no firm conclusion. It's archived
This led indirectly to the introduction of the GPL license flag for kernel
API calls, so that authors who specifically don't want their code used by
binary modules can mark it as such.
By inference, this essentially provided a defendable position that binary
loadable modules are OK so long as they don't use API calls explicitly
defined as GPL only. Otherwise why else would such a flag have been
Many vendors use this as an excuse not to release their software under GPL.
They are distributing GPL derived works in a binary-only format and are in
violation of the Linux kernel copyright as far as I am aware.
This doesn't make it any more legal - but I suspect that it's a case of risk
assessment on a case by case basis.
One assessment could be that the Linux authors are not likely to sue for
copyright violation because they'll never get together and agree to enforece
the GPL in this scenario, due to such differing opinions.
There are many instances of companies either ignoring the GPL license for
their Linux-derived products, or at least not providing source for kernel
modules they develop to support their proprietary hardware.
Just look at where Linux is embedded it consumer electronics (cellphones,
DVD players etc) and how many of those are shipped with GPL license, source
code or the required offer of source code.
From time when a GPL violation is brought out into the open on Slahsdot,
this mailing list or elsewhere. There is never any concerted effort by Linux
authors to defend the copyright and insist on GPL compliance.
Part of the problem is that for Linux, copyright is not assigned back to any
one person or entity therefore it's more difficult for any individual to try
and 'fight the cause' of GPL compliance. Another problem is that Linux is
global, and many of the binary-only vendors are in the far-east where the
culture is perhaps less concerned about copyright law, US or otherwise.
So it seems that there is nothing do loose, anyone can take Linux and do
whatever they please with it and not have to be particularly worried about
contributing back to the community or complying with the rules of the
commons, because nobody is likely to enforce the requirements against them.
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