back to article Linux kernel community tries to castrate GPL copyright troll

Linux kernel maintainer Greg Kroah-Hartman and several other senior Linux figures have published a “Linux Kernel Community Enforcement Statement” to be included in future Linux documentation, in order to ensure contributions to the kernel don't fall foul of copyright claims that have already seen a single developer win "at least …

  1. Lee D

    He owns the code.

    He therefore has the right to sue if you're not compliant with the license.

    I can't say I disagree with his stance - maybe his intentions, but he's not doing anything wrong as such. He's probably annoyed the people AREN'T honouring the GPL on his code. And 0.25% is a DAMN SIGHT more code than I'll ever wrote, own, or get to be used in a major modern operating system. He's done the legwork, he's not exactly trolling, and courts are presumably not throwing out his cases. If he gets a few million from companies because they're not complying, well done to him. I'd like to think if 'twere me that I'd give some of that back to Linux somehow as it's not just his code that was infringed, but that's a personal, moral choice, not a legal one.

    And these companies presumably infringed his code that GAVE NO SUCH RIGHTS to allow them to resolve their GPL infractions in a nice way. Even with such a statement, there's nothing to say that every kernel developer / copyright holder agrees and will abide by that - they can't. Some of them aren't even around any more to give that kind of permission.

    Sure, it's not what I'd do. But several million Euros for plainly illegal infringement of your personal copyrights? Yeah, I'd be having words for sure and that would give me one heck of an incentive.

    I can't say that I could really make the guy out to be inherently evil, as the article seems to imply I should.

    1. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

      Nah. He sounds just like a leaching parasite. Nothing more.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Nah. He sounds just like a leaching parasite. Nothing more.

        Don't you mean leeching? The imagery evoked by "leaching" is just a little too gruesome for my taste ...

        1. Steve the Cynic

          Re: Nah. He sounds just like a leaching parasite. Nothing more.

          "Don't you mean leeching? The imagery evoked by "leaching" is just a little too gruesome for my taste ..."

          Leaching: leaking of chemical components of something into a surrounding liquid. Example: Storing drink for long periods in lead-crystal containers causes leaching of the lead from the glass(1) into the drink.

          Leeching: that which is done by leeches, by which, in context, we usually mean the hematophagous varieties, the ones that suck blood.

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leech

          (1) Although we call it "crystal", it's actually glass. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lead_glass

      2. JimC

        > Leeching

        Surely the leeching parasites are the companies who are using GPL code without complying with the GPL? Unless I've understood this very badly the only people who are getting sued are people who have breached the GPL.

        1. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

          Re: > Leeching

          They should be forced to release their source code. In any case, a single individual shouldn't reap benefits from a massive collective effort -it's not as if the offending company used only his small parts of the software. That's why it's leeching.

      3. Alan Brown Silver badge

        > Nah. He sounds just like a leaching parasite. Nothing more.

        Actually he sounds like a pissed off dev.

        The validity of GPL has been proven in german courts for nearly 20 years. Inflicting severe financial pain on the remaining offenders is likely to make the others come into line, because being nice to them won't work.

        I'm not overly surprised. Despite the lawsuits to date, there are a LOT of devices out there which have taken the piss out of GPL - in the UK, topupTV recorders not only used Linux and Ext3 filesystems, but when called out on it they obfuscated things and tweaked the ext3 layout to make it harder to read.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @Lee

      "He owns the code.

      He therefore has the right to sue if you're not compliant with the license."

      He may own part(s) of the code, but he doesn't own nor control the entire project. And I think that's a very important detail in this case because his work is a small part of a bigger project. Which I think is a very important detail here, because his actions seem to suggest that he's trying to act on behalf of the entire project, only to try and gain personal financial gain from it.

      That doesn't seem right at all.

      Of course it does raise another question: how well the project has thought about all the legal aspects. It's not uncommon for a project to request that contributors agree to waive / transfer their rights onto the project. In other words: agree that once they commit their code the intellectual property also transfers onto the project itself. Not that I think it would have changed much though, not too many people fully understand what is going on here, and I think that aspect got carefully targeted here.

      Can't help wonder if some companies would consider a counter-claim. I mean, it has become plain out obvious that he's no longer representing the project in any way, as such all his claims seem to have been undermined as well. Time for some popcorn perhaps ;)

      1. Aitor 1 Silver badge

        Re: @Lee

        You might not know it, but german law forbids you to renounce certain rights in your IP.

        My guess (and this is a guess) is that yes, he did sign something like that, yet he is still entitled to the IP.

    3. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      You caught one key point ...

      The law allows Mr McHardy to stop people using the entire Linux kernel (and user space code that is not conveniently portable to something else) until he says otherwise. The payouts are on that scale. If he was collecting on a par with his contribution, or he was splitting 99.75% of the profit with other contributors it would not be so bad, but there is more to it than that.

      The vast majority of people who contribute to GPL projects do so with a deal like "I contribute a little, and I get back everything in return". For them, the purpose of enforcing GPL compliance to ensure everyone gets everything rather than some distributors profit from everything by keeping their small part secret. There are already organisations, (Like the Software Freedom Conservancy) that contact distributors who do not honour the GPL. SFC's massively preferred solution is for infringers to start (and continue to) make the source code available for the GPL software ex-infringers distribute.

      Imagine instead of one McHardy there are a dozen, or a hundred each charging 100% for their 0.25%. The Linux kernel (and a ton of user space tools) becomes a much more risky proposition. Infringers have been complaining to groups like SFC for McHardy's action for years. They stop infringing, but they still have to pay off McHardy. The ex-infringers blame GPL enforcement organisations for McHardy despite McHardy refusing to even talk with them. Apologising for McHardy's existence has become a significant drain on resources.

      If Mr McHardy behaved like this with his own project, that would be fine. His actions are poisoning the work of hundreds of thousands of others. It is hardly surprising that those others are taking steps to limit the damage. Decide for yourself what is surprising here: that there is only one McHardy or that everyone else has been so patient with him.

      1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

        Re: You caught one key point ...

        To stop people using the entire Linux kernel (and user space code that is not conveniently portable to something else) until he says otherwise.

        Nope, it does not. He already licensed it under GPL, end of story.

        However, the law allows him to nuke pretty much any company which has violated the GPL with a megaton warhead. I am all for what he does. We need more of that.

        As far as the companies not complying, most who do not comply do so quite deliberately as they see GPL compliance as an extra expense, not an essential requirement (do not even get me started about Arm SoC and device manufacturers releasing their kernel sources).

      2. Adam 52 Silver badge

        Re: You caught one key point ...

        "stop people using the entire Linux kernel (and user space code that is not conveniently portable to something else) until he says otherwise. The payouts are on that scale."

        There's a lot of assumption in this statement. I'll add my own; in most cases he's settled out of court. In court he'd be entitled to damages for his part, so a respondent could, if it wanted to, make an offer appropriate to his contribution and hope that the judge accepts that. So companies are settling with him in order to avoid the risk. The payouts reflect that avoidance of risk, not the value derived from others work.

        I'm struggling to find sympathy for GPL violators. If it were Disney films they'd be in prison.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: You caught one key point ...

          > If it were Disney films they'd be in prison.

          Oh, because it isn't 75 years past the death of the copyright holder? Methinks that here in the States, the provision in the Constitution for copyrights to be for a "limited" time is being violated, since that 75-year period essentially means, after I'm dead. Disney is the reason why we have such a draconian, and unconstitutional, copyright period: They paid off or threatened their way to getting the law changed.

          Unfortunately for Disney, people do what they always do: The more unreasonable the law, the more likely it will be ignored.

          [Anonymous because I don't want Disney hunting me down.]

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      WTF? How is this bad??

      Given tha rampant GPL violations throughout the industry, with many, many embedded devices using GPL software (e.g. BlackVue (dashcam manufacturer) are violating the GPL licence of at least 5 open source projects by refusing to provide any source code), how is this a bad thing?

      Anybody releasing products in which they are shipping GPL software without providing the full source code in line with GPL requirements needs to be hit with lawsuits, and hit _hard_.

      Patrick should be getting a medal from the open source community for his enforcement action.

      1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

        Re: WTF? How is this bad??

        Patrick should be getting a medal from the open source community for his enforcement action.

        Concur - it is what LF should be doing instead of him in the first place. They have, however, gone into complete corporate lapdog mode across the board instead.

        1. Jeremy Allison

          Re: WTF? How is this bad??

          Remember, the Linux Foundation is a USA 501(c)(6) non-profit, organizing on behalf of its members, *NOT* the Open Source or (heaven forbid) the Free Software community.

          Anyone who is surprised at this simply hasn't been paying attention.

          Other notable 501(c)(6) non-profits include the MPAA and the RIAA.

          Now are you getting it ?

      2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: WTF? How is this bad??

        "Patrick should be getting a medal from the open source community for his enforcement action."

        Why? He's not feeding their share back to them.

        1. Gordan

          Re: WTF? How is this bad??

          "Why? He's not feeding their share back to them."

          Because GPL violations are unacceptable and somebody prosecuting the violators is infinitely better than nobody prosecuting them.

    5. #define INFINITY -1

      Details

      It may help the more skeptical reader to have the details:

      https://lwn.net/Articles/721458/

      1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

        Re: Details

        LWN Article:

        There is a need to find out what his claims are, but there are plenty of targets for the basic claims (no source and no offer); in any case, over time, McHardy has moved away from the more exotic claims. Some entities that use chips from manufacturers that do not comply with the licenses, though, are stuck. They cannot comply with the license themselves. It is important to stop all of this activity with McHardy, Radcliffe said, if he continues to benefit, it will attract others.

        Sorry, no bonus. It is part of basic due diligence that what you put into your product is not stolen, illegal or counterfeit. For open source stuff this includes checking all components and their source.

        I had to do that in two companies for products I built.

        The fact that the manufacturer "has not shipped it" as far as the court is concerned is not far off from "dog ate my homework". Example of what it actually is: a manufacturer is shipping you half assembled PCs with counterfeit Windows on them. You add a monitor, a keyboard, a badge with your name and sell it. Do you think that Microsoft lawyers will give you any quarter? F*** no. You will be digging yourself out of restitution debt for the rest of your life (and may even end up in jail in some jurisdictions). So why on earth do we have these guys, who are supposedly lawyers trying to present us that this is quite kosher? It never was and it never will be.

  2. This post has been deleted by its author

  3. frank ly

    I'm confused

    "Lawyer Heather Meeker believes that McHardy wrote “well under .25% of the code in the kernel” but has parlayed that into around 50 copyright complaints about Linux companies' use of Netfilter. "

    Is it copyright or license terms violation?

    Whatever he's suing them for, how can he convince the court that he's the owner and is entitled to all the damages?

    1. frank ly

      Re: I'm confused

      P.S. The level of the court awards sound like punitive damages rather than any actual loss he's suffered. Is this normal?

      1. Warm Braw Silver badge

        Re: I'm confused

        I'm confused too. In the UK, you'd normally be restricted to claiming the amount of your actual loss from the violation which in most cases would be close to zero. It would appear that the result of the German claims are not easily publicly obtained, so it's difficult to know what the basis of any settlement might be.

        It's the "difficult to know" that's the real problem.

        1. Ben Tasker Silver badge

          Re: I'm confused

          I'm confused too. In the UK, you'd normally be restricted to claiming the amount of your actual loss from the violation which in most cases would be close to zero. It would appear that the result of the German claims are not easily publicly obtained, so it's difficult to know what the basis of any settlement might be.

          There's a link above that explains it better, but basically what he's doing is this

          Stage 1:

          Hey, ACME, you're not in compliance with the license, infringing my copyrights. Pay me 5,000 for my engineering time and I'll help you get it right.

          OK, that's done, please sign this cease-and-desist to confirm receipt.

          Stage 2:

          Hey, ACME, me again. I've found some other violations. According to the terms of our contract (the signed cease-and-desist) that's 10K per violation. There's 100 of them, so thats 100 grand please.

          ACME's companies look favourably on stage 1 because it's a cheap way to avoid costs, and seemingly low risk. Under German law, though, when that C&D is signed, it becomes a binding contract - and that's his money maker.

          If you look at some of the claims he's made too, some of them are... inventive. At least one was on the basis that "ACME" was distributing GPL code, but the offer for the source came from ACME's parent company.

          1. Chavdar Ivanov

            Re: I'm confused

            ,,, 10K per violation. There's 100 of them, so thats 100 grand please. ,,,

            You've missed a zero, mate. It is a million.

            1. Ben Tasker Silver badge
              Joke

              Re: I'm confused

              ,,, 10K per violation. There's 100 of them, so thats 100 grand please. ,,,

              You've missed a zero, mate. It is a million.

              Nah, Theresa May made a speech while I was typing and Sterling plummeted again

              Also, D'oh

        2. Zolko Silver badge

          Re: I'm confused

          @ Warm Braw : "I'm confused too. In the UK ..."

          yes, but he plays in German courts. From what I read, he attacks a company for GPL violation, asking a small fee for his technical expertise in helping sorting out the fuss, but signing a contract and an NDA in the process, which then may become a contract violation and not a copyright violation if other GPL infringing code appears within that company.

          Say: he finds a company having 100 products containing his code, said company providing the Linux kernel source code but not the exact version of every tool to build it. He attacks that company for 1 GPL violation, proposes to fix the source code as a contractor, and the contract says that he shall receive that amount for every GPL violation. He knows that there are 99 other products, but the company thinks that it will be fixed in 1 go. This is extortion, pure and simple.

    2. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: I'm confused

      I'm glad you asked this because it's not something I'm wrapping my brain around. Outside of the old Shareware thing early on, every company, every project, I've been associated with asked for "first look" to see if they wanted it. So if I wrote some code on my own time, I had to give them first look. IF they wanted it, they paid for it.. licensed, or out right purchase. If not, I could do what I want. I would have assumed that those writing code for Linux would have had some similar agreement but maybe not.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: I'm confused

        "I could do what I want. I would have assumed that those writing code for Linux would have had some similar agreement but maybe not."

        There are a few differences.

        First, whatever any one individual writes is merged with the contributions of many other people in a collaborative effort. Why should you then act unilaterally, possible contrary to what your numerous collaborators want?

        Secondly, the purpose of the GPL is to encourage sharing of source code, not to collect fees from users. This is why organisations such as the SFC mentioned in the article aim for compliance, not penalties.

        Thirdly people contributing to Free Software projects are not doing so with the intention of profiting from licensing of copyright. They may contribute in order to sell support (e.g. Red Hat) or to have the software support sale of other products (e.g.Intel).

        Clearly it's a weakness of the project that the acceptance of contributions is not made conditional on the contributors not taking unilateral actions of this sort.

        1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

          Re: I'm confused

          Secondly, the purpose of the GPL is to encourage sharing of source code

          Nah, the purpose is to transfer rights to the FSF under the guise of encouraging the sharing of code. In fact, the threat of possible litigation pushes some people and company away from GPL projects.

          1. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

            Re: I'm confused

            Hang on!

            I don't think the GPL gives any particular rights to FSF?

            I won't look it up right now, but I would be astonished if that was the case!

    3. Beech Horn

      Re: I'm confused

      Am not a lawyer, but my understanding is that the GPL is a copyleft license using Copyright law (as opposed to Trademark or Patent law) against itself. So same difference. It would be a violation of the license agreement that falls under copyright law.

    4. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Re: I'm confused

      Is it copyright or license terms violation?

      GPL 2.0 modified (as in the kernel) violation. Most companies that violate GPL do that knowingly and on purpose, so I really do not see the benefit of the new grace clause. They will not comply with it anyway so it changes very little.

      1. petur

        Re: I'm confused

        This is in fact not true, but most cases of soft enforcement do not go through courts and lawyers and certainly don't make the news

    5. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Unhappy

      Re: I'm confused

      I'm also confused. I think his personal copyrights need to be summarily removed from the code base, even if it must be under court order to cover all legal bases. He does NOT own it if it was contributed to the project. That's especially true if he's unable to demonstrate what his contributions actually were. So in a COMMON SENSE world, he's not entitled to any "rights", period. Once something is given away, ownership ceases.

      And trolling after GPL violators is just trolling. He should report it the to the FSF instead.

      But like for ANY troll, "follow the money" and you find the motivation.

      If I got a notice from the asshat, I'd tell him to perform an unnatural sex act upon himself with large pointy objects and without the benefit of lubricants. [and I'm not violating the GPL, so there phhhttttttthhhhhhh]

      1. handleoclast

        Re: I'm confused

        @bombastic bob

        IANAL. Even so, I think what he's doing is using his contributions to the codebase to show that he has standing. He's not some disinterested third party complaining, he has legitimate grounds to complain because it's some of his code that is being violated. His code is a very minor part of Linux, but it is a part, therefore he has been wronged.

        I don't understand enough law to comment on the rest of it. I don't know enough about his motivation (but it appears to be personal enrichment) to comment on the morality of it. Some companies are violating the GPL and he's giving them a bollocking for doing that because he has the legal standing to do so.

        I think he's on solid ground when he says those companies are misbehaving. I think he's on legally solid ground because he has standing. I also think whatever good he's doing is outweighed by the negative side-effects (raising so much uncertainty about hundreds like him popping up) and that if it's done at all it needs to be done by an umbrella organization. OTOH, nobody else seems to be doing it, and it probably needs to be done sooner rather than later otherwise future attempts to enforce the GPL may be met with "You didn't bother before" arguments.

    6. Mike Dimmick

      Re: I'm confused

      Is it copyright or license terms violation?

      It is a copyright violation. The law of copyright says that the right to make copies is reserved to the copyright holder. The law also holds that loading a program from disk into memory is making a copy. The copyright holder can make legal agreements - licences - with third parties to make copies. The licence agreement tells you how many copies you can make and under what conditions. If you violate the licence agreement you have no rights to make copies at all - can't copy the source code, can't copy the object code, can't run the program. The object code is held to be a mechanical derivative work of the source code, so all rights in it - even if you compile it, or rather you run the compiler - remain with the source code's copyright holder.

      I am not a lawyer, but that's what I recall from my Software Law course at university. That was more than 15 years ago, but I don't believe copyright as applied to software has fundamentally changed in that time.

    7. Phil Lord

      Re: I'm confused

      Well, we don't know. I would imagine though he is not asking for damages, he is asking for a contract to use his code which in turn means that they can use the rest of linux. If you are using his code (especially indirectly), and someone says you can't do this because I will sue you unless you pay me, then you end up paying.

      It doesn't matter how much the code is. Remember, at one point in the Java wars, they were talking about 11 lines of code, and claiming billions.

  4. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge
    Mushroom

    How long before...

    All trace of his code is expunged from the Linux Kernel?

    Then he won't be able to bit the hand that feeds IT.

    {pun intended}

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: How long before...

      I was thinking the same thing. Sounds like an opportunity for someone to make a name for himself by leading a project to replace netfilter with code untainted by that leech.

      1. Tim Bates

        Re: How long before...

        As long as it's not Poettering... Your binary stored filter rules would be incompatible with kernel updates and exploitable filter bugs would be ignored since it works as designed or some such shite.

        1. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

          Re: How long before...

          Ahh! PulseAudio! I assumed systemd.. Hang on.. He is in both of them!

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            GPLv3

            Does GPLv3 allow this sort of self-serving lawsuit on the behalf of your tiny fraction of code? Maybe someone needs to update the license Linux uses for future submissions so it has the following characteristics:

            1) compatible with GPLv2, so it can be used for new code but existing submissions remain GPLv2

            2) does not allow this sort of thing - any copyright lawsuits on the code can't benefit the author financially, beyond reasonable legal costs and cost for his time (i.e. no partnering with your brother the lawyer who charges $5000/hr, or claiming your time is worth that much) Everything left over goes to one or more Linux/free software related non-profits.

      2. bombastic bob Silver badge
        Devil

        Re: How long before...

        My understanding is that netfilter was originally derived from the ipfw filter in FreeBSD, or at least it was heavily looked at during development [similarities are obvious]. That's released under a BSD license.

      3. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Ben Tasker Silver badge

      Re: How long before...

      > How long before... All trace of his code is expunged from the Linux Kernel?

      Already being discussed AIUI

    3. Bronek Kozicki

      Re: How long before...

      (with thanks to #define INFINITY -1)

      Directly from kernel maintainers, as reported in LWN:

      If people are acting outside of the social contract, perhaps their code could be rewritten and replaced.

      For McHardy's code, that may be a viable option, Hemel said. Obviously, it won't help for products that have already shipped, but ripping out McHardy's code would help for the future. Companies could hire a few developers to rewrite it. If you look at the money he has made and the cost in lawyers to handle the disputes, it comes to a loss of multiple millions of euros, he said.

      Radcliffe agreed, saying that ripping out the code would provide a warning to the next person that considered doing this kind of thing.

  5. DropBear

    Every single time anyone at all talked about potential dangers a company faces when ignoring the Linux kernel GPL, every single time, they all said that said company could potentially be sued by ANY kernel contributor, and they could lose their license to use the kernel without any discernible practical process to ever gain it back, considering nobody can secure explicit permission from all contributors ever again.

    So what exactly is the big surprise that someone actually did it?!? Yes, I can see he's not being particularly nice about it (not that I have any idea how does one litigate "nicely" - you either do or you don't) and there are some (financial) aspects of these cases that some people would definitely find arguable, but why is it such a "no-no" that he actually goes doing what everyone always said any contributor could rightfully do?

    Sure, making things easier for any accidental GPL violators is a good thing - for all two of them, because nobody else is doing it "accidentally".

    1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      for all two of them,

      You know another one? Woah, that's amazing.

      Frankly, applause, do it again, do it more and again. And again.

      Licenses are there to be complied with. If you violate the license you have no right to sell or distribute your stuff. There is bugger all difference is that a commercial or a copyleft license. In fact, copyleft is worse as you do not have a single point of contact.

  6. paul2718

    ISTM that McHardy is inverting the purpose of the GPL by leveraging his ownership of a small amount of a large set to have control over the whole, apparently to his personal benefit.

    Paul

    1. Orv

      The GPL is kind of a scary thing. I prefer BSD licensed code for that reason. Less restrictive, and the people involved are less angry and litigious.

  7. MJI Silver badge

    After reading this I am still confused.

    What have the paying out companies done wrong?

    Why is he able to claim all this?

    I am looking for clarification please.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: After reading this I am still confused.

      "What have the paying out companies done wrong?"

      Failed to provide copies of the source for the binaries, either with those binaries or on request from recipients.

      "Why is he able to claim all this?"

      A very good question. Apparently German law allows him to act unilaterally.

      1. Ben Tasker Silver badge

        Re: After reading this I am still confused.

        > Failed to provide copies of the source for the binaries, either with those binaries or on request from recipients.

        Not always. His claims are rather inventive at times.

        In at least one case, the offer of source was there, but it came from the distributors parent company rather than the distributor itself.

      2. Zolko Silver badge

        Re: After reading this I am still confused.

        > Failed to provide copies of the source for the binaries

        failed to provide the exact version of the source with all tools at the exact version to build the precise binaries that were shipped. GPL v2

      3. MJI Silver badge

        Re: After reading this I am still confused.

        So these would be mods to the OS then?

        If so I can see that that is against GPL but I think taking to court is OTT.

        I suppose this is also why BSD is so popular with embedded systems.

  8. jms222

    Non-GPL feature

    I couldn't help but laugh when I saw at stand at EuroBSDCon Paris recently for a product. Can't remember the product but a major feature bullet point was "GPL Free".

    I don't disrespect the GPL but sometimes I simply want to get things done and not find for example I shouldn't use a library that is installed and taking up precious space on our NAND device because of licensing (of our commercial binary).

    Among utilities it is common for the GNU version to be a straight copy of the BSD one anyway with some small changes and of course the license.

    Anybody care to explain the difference between dynamically linking against a library and dynamically linking (in effect) against a kernel that is GPL ? Thought not.

    1. PaulVD
      Stop

      Re: Non-GPL feature

      You don't want to use the GPL'd library? Be my guest - nobody forces you to use it. Write your own code for those functions, and you can do whatever you like.

      But if you want to re-use code that somebody else has written to save you the cost and bother of re-doing all their work yourself (and doing it properly, which is often hard), then you do it on their terms. If they are fans of open source, their terms may include that you have to add your new product to the open source pile. Like it or lump it.

      Or pay damages, of course.

    2. PhilPotter

      Re: Non-GPL feature

      You are correct that technically speaking, system calls etc. are a form of dynamic linking, in that any user space software must call upon the kernel (directly or otherwise) for certain services.

      That said, I'm sure it is mentioned in the kernel sources that any software that communicates purely via the system call layer (and not by using proprietary modules or similar methods) is not considered a derived work, and therefore is not required to be covered by the same license as the kernel. This is how Android gets away with being mostly Apache 2.0 for example.

    3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Non-GPL feature

      "Thought not."

      Right, so why should anyone bother answering you?

    4. FIA Silver badge

      Re: Non-GPL feature

      Anybody care to explain the difference between dynamically linking against a library and dynamically linking (in effect) against a kernel that is GPL ?

      Linking, dynamic or otherwise is setting up tables of function call pointers so your code can branch into a supplied function.

      A system call is usually performed by triggering a software interrupt, which causes the kernel to then take control and perform the required function for you.

      In short, linked code runs as though it were part of your program, system calls don't.

      1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

        Re: Non-GPL feature

        It is a little more complicated than even that.

        IIRC, this has been a source of discussion in the Linux community. Generally, libraries that are compiled in or dynamically linked are often published under the LGPL. This allows for linking in a product without that product having to be published under any GPL license, as long as the library is not altered in any way.

        When it comes to the kernel, the problem is not the system call itself which is well known and covered by the interface in libc and other libraries published under the LGPL, but kernel threads or modules that need to access kernel data structures. This requires the modules to know the address of the structures, which in turn requires it to read the kernel symbol table. It is the use of this data that RMS (in particular) believed requires all modules added to the running system to be published under the GPL (the system will mark the kernel TAINTED if there are non-GPL modules loaded).

        This was one of the things that prevented OpenZFS from being included in Debian because of a kernel module that it required, IIRC. Not sure how it was resolved in the end.

      2. Peter Gathercole Silver badge
        Boffin

        Re: Non-GPL feature @FIA

        I've not looked in to the details of Linux in particular (I should really), but on real UNIX systems, it is quite possible for the system call to run under the process context of the calling process without a context switch (in fact for the PDP11 running AT&T/Bell UNIX, it was essential).

        I know of at least four different methods that the system call mechanism itself operates (PDP11, s370, SPARC and Power). The main problems are the way that the user and kernel address spaces work, the way that the system call arguments are passed, and whether the system needs to take a context switch as part of the call.

        With ancient UNIXes on uniprocessors (PDP11 and s370), the system call had to be non-interruptable, which meant that it was possible to just switch the address mapping within the same process context. This originally made it a cinch to work out the system time that the process used. Less ancient UNIXes with pre-emptable system calls, multi-thredded processes and thread safe system calls had to include a lot of code to handle context saves and saving the timer values as part of the syscall interface.

        1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

          Re: Non-GPL feature @FIA

          I've actually just read some x86 Linux syscall documentation, and it's pretty much like the PDP11 implementation but without some of the more convenient MMU features, but I realized that I may have used the term "context switch" in a different way than most people would expect.

          When I said that some systems did not require a context switch, what I was alluding to was that there is no change in the user mode address mapping registers, and the kernel still tracks time against the process that make the system call (it is still in the same process context). It also may 'borrow' the current process stack.

          In a more traditional use of "context switch", you would say that this was actually still a change in context, but because on the PDP11 and s370, the switch to "privileged, supervisor, or system" mode switches to a second set of memory mapping registers (in actual fact a complete duplicate set of all registers IIRC) to get access to kernel code and data spaces, without changing the user memory mapping registers, it leaves the process context intact during the syscall.

          In other architectures, for example Power (and x86), there was no duplicate set of registers (not until register renaming became common), so a system call had to do much more saving of the user process context to be able to restore it when the system call completed.

          Many UNIX implementations also used the return from a system call as a convenient time to perform a scheduling check, to see whether the current process was still the most eligible to get the processor.

  9. Hans 1
    Linux

    Get it straight

    Paddy is just like the guyz over at grsecurity, on a milking spree.

    They are profiteering as much as they can until companies lose all confidence in GPL'd code and cease to use it and/or contribute to it - they are the cancers of free software.

    You have to understand that the strength of free software is the many personal contributers and companies that use it and contribute back.

    There are a number of companies that do not contribute back, fair enough.

    There are a number of companies that do not obey the obligations as laid out by the GPL, this is bad, agreed. Ideally, you would want them to join the merry men and contribute stuff back and, of course, you want them to obey to the obligations as laid out by the GPL. So, you need to gently get them to obey, in the hope they will contribute back, give-give -> everybody is happy.

    Paddy is alienating them by milking them. I guess they will pay up and switch to the BSD's ... this is not good for Linux or the FSF.

    Note that a single commit is enough to go and do this sort of thing.

    1. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Alert

      Re: Get it straight

      "Note that a single commit is enough to go and do this sort of thing."

      therein lies the problem. THAT part needs fixing!

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This makes me wonder who's supporting him. Did he start this of his volition? Did he get some startup money from somewhere else to pay legal fees? Interesting times.

    1. Ben Tasker Silver badge

      He keeps his legal fees as low as possible by avoiding using lawyers as far as possible.

      He had to withdraw one case that went to court because the judge had questions about an Affadavit he filed, and wanted to speak to his lawyer. The lawyer in question hadn't touched said affadavit, so they withdrew (I don't know exactly what was wrong with it).

      His settlements tend to come in stages (a lowish first stage, which gives him the leverage for a subsequent higher claim) so I guess that fills the gaps a bit too

  11. FIA Silver badge

    Copyright law is confusing

    From the article...

    But it is possible for segments of code to be subject to copyright, too. Developers need only leave a copyright claim in code or documentation to do so.

    I'm not sure this is 100% correct, as I understand it, at least in the UK, unless I explicitly give up copyright then even if I don't include a copyright notice the copyright is still mine.

    (The difference being between a licence to use some code and the right to do with it as you please).

    IMHO any open source project that doesn't explicitly request copyright of any contributions (even if it's shared) is just asking for trouble like this down the road, GPL or no GPL. There are many projects that have run foul of this in the past, say because they wish to change licences for example.

  12. Jonathan 27

    This case is a little weird because it's one developer suing alone, but there are a lot of companies stealing GPL code and repackaging it in commercial applications. So that leaves me in a weird place because I support enforcing the GPL, but the way this guy is doing it doesn't feel right.

  13. bobajob12

    More care needed...

    The OpenBSD team went through a toe curling amount of pain a few years ago to do exactly that and in some cases made some very difficult decisions to remove code if they could not get an explicit grant from the author under BSD terms.

    Just a casual observation, not directly related to McHardy, but a little more rigor about the provenance and licensing terms of contributed software would go a looong way to avoiding shenanigans like this.

  14. razorfishsl

    Simple......

    Re-write the 0.25% of the code he supplied and remove him from the scene completely.

  15. Jonathan Richards 1 Silver badge
    WTF?

    That sidebar...

    Which says:

    Copyright in open source? WTF? Most open source licences allow re-use of code, provided modifications are released under the same licence as the original. ... But it is possible for segments of code to be subject to copyright, too.

    But, of course, ALL the open source code in the Linux kernel is copyright. If there were no copyright, then there would be no way of enforcing the GPL under which it is released.

    I never thought I'd say this, but - bring back SCO. At least back then there was a more general understanding (among those of us who should understand these things), of how GNU Public Licensing worked.

  16. Ramazan

    I'd very much preferred to see Google fucked by McHardy over Android, because some Nexus images don't build.

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