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GPL Violation - NVIDIA

emmett posted more than 14 years ago | from the miss-manners-saves-the-world dept.

News 336

The General Public License is a powerful license with a powerful ideology. The GPL forbids use of GPL'ed code in closed-source, proprietary software. The model has already proven itself, but sometimes mistakes happen. GPL'ed code found its way into a closed-source kernel module; NVIDIA's proprietary beta Xfree86 driver. This is the story about how mistakes happen, and how they can be fixed with polite communication.

Ralph Metzler is just another one of those 'thousands of developers' you hear about developing software for Linux. Ralph was checking out the sources for the Linux 2.3 kernel, and he noticed that a chunk of memory conversion routines were copied line for line out of his bttv.c video driver source into NVIDIA's code.

Tony Bennett at NVIDIA grabbed a small amount of bttv.c and integrated it into the Xfree86 driver, without realizing that the code was GPL'ed. Nvidia was contacted about this oversight, and politely responded in a positive way to Ralph. I got to talk to Ralph to see how it all worked out.

Ralph Metzler: I received E-mail by Tony Bennett, and he also said he would fix it and they apologized for any possible infringement or any violations, and it was an oversight and they would remove it as soon as possible.

Slashdot: Are you happy with that?

Ralph Metzler: Yes, of course. Of course, it would have been better if it had never happened. I wasn't especially happy about seeing that they released binary-only drivers now, and I just wanted to try them out, and then I see that they re-used GPL'ed code.

Slashdot: ... and then they threw in a credit for someone else who wasn't even you.

Ralph Metzler: All right, I think that was David M[iller] or something. He made some patches to this code, and while he was mentioned in the bttv code before those routines, they probably thought it was all his code, but it was originally mine. He made some patches so it works with newer kernels. They probably thought it was all his original code. It was also probably just a mistake.

I learned from Rich Black, PR manager for NVIDIA, that they are currently changing the code for the next revision of the Xfree86 driver, and the GPL'ed code will be removed from the driver within the next one to two weeks. I got to talk to him, too.

Slashdot: The way it stands right now on the Web site, people are able to download [the driver], and it's not GPL'ed.

Rich Black: I think it's one of those things where our corporate rule is that we do not open up our code, and we do not have open code, and we will not do that.

Slashdot: That's fine, and that's understandable, but you're in the position that you're either going to have to open it up completely, or not use it at all. Waiting until next revision and then saying, 'Oh, well, it's fixed now' is a bit of a problem, because right now you're in violation.

Rich Black: Right, which we understand, and it will be taken care of within the next one to two weeks. I understand we're in violation of that now, and it was something that was done strictly as a mistake on our part, and somebody was going through writing some code, and it was completely done on accident. It was not a known violation at the time, it was something that he is aware of now, and is seeking to alleviate the situation and take care of it. I guess I can't change anything about how we are in violation of the GPL right now, but it's something we are going to take care of as soon as possible. With the next version of the software, we'll take care of that, and we'll no longer be in violation.

Slashdot: Would you be willing to open source the one kernel module that uses that code?

Rich Black: From what I understand, that is something that might be opened, but I cannot state as 100% fact that I know for sure that that it is the direction, because it is our general rule that none of it is going to be open sourced, but from what I understand is that one [module] might be made available.

So, that's the story. Big company makes a mistake, developer notices mistake and politely informs big company, big company recognizes mistake, apologizes and makes efforts to correct the problem. Wouldn't it be great if it were always this easy? The open nature of the GPL makes 'borrowing' source code extremely easy, and sometimes mistakes do happen. With any luck, polite messages and open communication will save the day.

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One more thing (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1100186)

Linux drivers are one thing. Just think of how many BeOS, BSD and Qnix(is that how it's spelt?) users, and good, happy vibrations you'll get by opening up. As opposed to the bad press you'll potentially receive by continuing risking blunders like this.

Also, just as another aside, how does a company mistakenly wind up with GPL code in it's closed product? I'm *not* advocating being extra harsh on NVIDIA here BTW, b/c FWIW they said they'll fix it, but c'mon guys! If the GPL'd package was not clearly marked like it's supposed to be, copying file, license and disclaimer or whatever in the source, would it not be the original authors' blunder? And if everything was in order, how does a developer get ahold of the code and NOT know it was under the GPL? Not trying to open up a can-o-flames here, if anyone has insight as to how _exactly_ things like this happen, please share. GPL developers ought to know so that they can avoid this happening in the future.

Re:Heh.. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1100187)

You can only say that about the GeForce since a couple of days ago, when NVidia released it's closed-source drivers full of stolen GPL code.

Before that, 3DFX ruled as far as speed goes. Now, they rule simply on the higher moral ground that they are standing on.

Re:People miss the point (again) (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1100188)

anyone who has downloaded the binary now has a
legal and binding right to the source code for this driver

It'd be nice, but we don't. The moment NVIDIA redistributed without meeting the GPL's terms, they failed to agree to the license, which means it became irrelevant. They're redistributing the author's work without any license; the remedies include desist orders and damages (actual and punitive) but not compulsory relicensing of their work.

IMHO the ideal answer would be to demand they stop offering the driver for download and recall the product (and punitive damages might be fun if they did it deliberately) unless they settle out of court by licensing the rest of the driver source under GPL. We certainly shouldn't give them another dime until they open their products.

Lost chance (1)

Tester (591) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100193)

We just lost a good chance of freeing NVidia's driver. If I understand the GPL correctly, but not respecting it, they have lost ALL of their rights. Meaning that they cannot even use the Linux kernel. This could have been a good chance of forcing them to Free their driver or menace of suing them. They are the only graphic chip maker that hasnt released info or drivers for Free Software devolopers. I dont care about their corporate policies, they have to stop distributing it and try to get all copies back or publish the source code, that's what the GPL says. The Free Software Community is now powerful enough to enforce its ideas on amoral companies. NVidia is amoral, they have corporate policies, but not corporate ethics. We are now strong enough to enforce the GPL in a more violent way. In the past, we were weak and had to hope that no one would challenge the GPL, but now we have the RedHat's of the world and even the IBM's that are betting large sums on Linux and on the GPL. If the GPl is challenged, they will be forced to support us. I ask the author of the bttv driver to take more expeditive actions against Nvidia and not let them get away with it. Those situations have to stop. I dont even believe them when they say that they didnt knew that stuff in the Linux kernel was GPLed, this is just completely ridiculous. How could they not know it? They did it and they knew what they where doing and they hoped that they would not get caught, how much more have they stolen from the community? They have to be stopped now. We have to tell them that we will not allow them to release buggy proprietary drivers and then even use GPLed code in it. If someone had used their copyrighted code, they would have started suing like mad. Why can't we do something similar? We have waited to much. There is a time for peace and there is a time for action. The time for action has come!

Re:Good job, Emmett (1)

sparky (3778) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100207)

Wow, sorry for not being a troll. Emmett's been talking about the story for a while in #slashdot on OPN. I already knew most of the story, it only took a glance to get the missing details. Sorry if I felt like congratulationg emmett on good journalism and for taking away a trolls chance to first post.

Re:Good job, Emmett (1)

sparky (3778) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100208)

Crap! And here I thought I had a decent sense of humor. Sometimes it just doesn't pay to be a bot. :)

Nvidia != Open Source (1)

Empty Sands (6814) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100211)

Rich Black: I think it's one of those things where our corporate rule is that we do not open up our code, and we do not have open code, and we will not do that

Well this means I'll never buy any NVidia products.

Re:Disadvantages? (1)

Ian Schmidt (6899) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100212)

Let's see.

Scenario 1: ATI has open specs for their chips.

Result: John Carmack, author of all 3 Quake games, is optimizing drivers for their chips.

Scenario 2: NVIDIA is dead-set on closed source.

Result: I can't get their piece-of-crap drivers to work in 3D, I don't know why, and they don't offer support. This does not lead to customer satisfaction.

Re:GNU and IP (GNU *is* IP) (1)

roderickm (6912) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100213)

GPL works only because there is a copyright (©). There must be a copyright owner with the authority to grant any license, including the GPL. Politically charged words like "copyleft" signify an ideology, not a legal (non-)ownership.

There is no conflict between owning something and sharing it freely. That's exactly what the GPL allows: the original author owns the copyright to the code and has licensed its use freely and permanently.


Re:Nail 'em to the wall (1)

amorsen (7485) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100214)

If we were to hit them full-on with a lawsuit the results would be companies would simply not touch Linux with a 10-foot pole for fear of another suit.

Hardware companies have no business touching Linux anyway. Open the specs and let the Linux community develop the drivers. There is no way that can get them in legal trouble.

Allowing non-GPL kernel modules in the first place was a mistake. Fortunately it is very hard to develop a kernel module without using GPL'd code.

Re:GNU and IP (GNU *is* IP) (1)

Linegod (9952) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100218)

Everything is GPL seems to be the motto of some /.ers.

In 5 years when they have to put food on the table for there 6 mildly retarted kids and strung out wife while trying to find a way to run a T1 line into the trailer park, they'll take a part-time job writing closed-source encryption apps for the local drug dealer to make ends meet.

And it will _all_ be GPL code. You bet it will.

"What do I care, if life ain't fair,
If you look at me real sore.
I've paid my dues and you should too,
as a son-of-a-bitch to the core"

Re:Excellent point. (1)

cduck (9999) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100219)

sounds good on paper (, screen...), don't it? in all reality though, it'll never happen. why don't we do the same with all telephone conversations and maybe even email (...oh wait, got *that* one covered...)? keeping such logs would be a HUGE waste^H^H^H^H^Hutilization of resources (human and financial). if i follow you correctly, these logs have the express purpose of ensuring companies don't copy GPL'd code? and there would be some sort of mandate to offer up these logs every time some company feels "hey--that sorta looks like what we did..."? i dunno. sounds sorta far fetched and impractical to say the very least.

Kudos to everyone (1)

enkidu (13673) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100231)

This is the way to handle occurances of this type which will happen more and more as GPL'ed code becomes more and more ubiquitous. My company is looking to use some GPL'ed tools in further development and I have found that there is alot of misunderstanding about GPL'ed code and tools. Hope everyone can learn from from this and other Really Big Companies can follow the example set by NVidia. Of course, this is assuming that they are as good as their word.

There is no trap so deadly as the trap you set for yourself

glad to see this was handled well (1)

Kraken137 (15062) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100233)

It's good to see that this situation was handled well. There's a tendancy in our community (hey, I'm guilty of it too) to see something like this happen, and automatically start screaming "the evil corporation is out to screw us!" without taking into account the fact that yes, people do make mistakes. Hopefully in the future we'll see more thoughtful polite confrontation and fewer knee-jerk harsh reactions.

Re:Nail 'em to the wall (1)

gmhowell (26755) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100241)

Is it possible to have FSF be a joint owner of the code, or must it be totally signed over?

Hmm, 2:00 am. Guess I'll probably find out myself before there is a reply:)

Laughing at the GPL (1)

antic (29198) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100242)

They are laughing at the GPL, and others will follow. When violations are discovered, nothing is done about it; how will this discourage other companies from making future violations themselves?

If you ripped off the company in question, do you think that they'd give you a few weeks to get your shit together? Do you think that you'd get away with a little apology? I don't think so - they'd come after you, and hard.

Supporters of the GPL should not sit back for a couple of weeks and let this slide. Open up your eyes...

How did they detect the violation?! (1)

Yumpee (32901) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100250)

I'm a little confused here ... if Nvidia is releasing a binary-only kernel module with no source code, then how did Ralph Metzer discover that they were using his code?


Clean Room? (1)

MrCreosote (34188) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100253)

Will their changes to replace the functionality which is currently performed by the GPLed code be done in a 'clean room' manner? I.e. will the person rewriting the code have access to the original code, in which case there is still potential for some sort of violation (although exactly what I can't be sure).

No Support!!?? (1)

greenfly (40953) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100259)

Bull there's no support. The day after these new drivers were released I had a problem with a crash, emailed Nvidia, and got a response with a fix that worked in less than 24hrs. I found a separate bug in the beta drivers and alerted them and got a response in a few hours.

Not to mention they opened a channel on, #nvidia devoted SOLELY to support these new drivers and help people get them installed.

Perhaps they weren't too supportive in the past, but I'm very impressed now with how they are handling these new drivers.

Re:GNU and IP (GNU *is* IP) (1)

xeer0 (42098) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100260)

The previous post seems like a perfectly valid question to me.

I can't possibly claim to answer it for anyone else, but for myself I feel this way:

If "they" will drop the copyright nonsense, "I" will gladly forget about copyleft.

In other words if they open source the world, there won't be any need for the GPL to make sure that works stay open. I'm not being facetious here. Just pointing out that to me the GPL is purely defensive. If the people trying to hoard knowledge would just knock it off there wouldn't be any need for the GPL.

Re:Good News, Bad news (1)

vectro (54263) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100272)

Yes, but the costs of losing a lawsuit are so high it wouldn't surprise me if they opened the source to settle.

Re:People miss the point (again) (1)

vectro (54263) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100273)

Wrong again.

nVidia violated the GPL, but all that means is that they no longer have any right to use the GPL'd software. Read the termination clause of the GPL.

What could happen is that the owner of the GPL'd software in question could sue them or negotiate a settlement; the latter could include nVidia's opening the sources.

Re:Here's an idea... (1)

vectro (54263) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100275)

According to the copyright law, you can substitute your actual damages ($0) for statutory damages of $750-$20000 per copy.

Re:Code reuse (1)

vectro (54263) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100276)

Actually, I would tend to disagree. The GPL is a user's license; it gives much more power to the user than to the developer.

People say that the BSD license is a capitalist's license, but I have to say that the true capitalist's license is the Microsoft EULA.

Re:Caught with their finger in the jar... (1)

atallah (71112) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100297)

Not all code is GPL...
there is for example the BSD license under which what nVIDIA did would be completely acceptable. There was prolly just some sort of misunderstanding at some point along the line.

Re:How about... (1)

Zach Garner (74342) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100301)

By reading this post you agree to give me $10,000.

We aren't even sure the GPL as it is will hold up in court. Adding more bullshit to it certainly will not help.


Re:Nail 'em to the wall (1)

WombatControl (74685) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100302)

Well, it seems like a good idea, but it would be more harmful than good.

Right now, NVIDIA is cautiously moving towards the Linux world. They don't want to give out their intellectual property for fear of giving the competition an advantage. Let them see that won't be the case. If we were to hit them full-on with a lawsuit the results would be companies would simply not touch Linux with a 10-foot pole for fear of another suit.

Better to talk them into doing the right thing. Considering that they were caught once, they probably won't do it again.

Lawsuits aren't the answer - tactful enforcement and encouragement are.

Re:GNU and IP (GNU *is* IP) (1)

settonull (79047) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100304)

In other words, how can GNU be so holy if the little copyright "c" is meaningless? I'm curious as to thoughts.

First off, I think people are amazingly good at holding countless contradictory ideas simultaneously, so this kind of attitude doesn't really surprise me.

Personally I think that the idea of Intellectual Property is inherently bankrupt. The only ideas you "own" are those ideas inside your head. Now I have heard all of the arguments for patents and copyright, and realize that their are currently some societal advantages to having a concept of IP. This doesn't however, sway me from the ideal that IP is bogus, it just proves that creating a productive society without IP is arguably difficult.

That said, when given the choice I gpl all of my code. If I must play by societies rules, then I am going to do my best to "force" my code to be open. Is this hypocritical? Perhaps, but until we enact a system without IP it is the way I have chosen to "fight".

Re:GNU and IP (GNU *is* IP) (1)

Alpha State (89105) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100310)

You are absolutely right that GPLed software is IP, and belongs to it's authors. RMS did not have the subversion of all copyright concepts in mind when he wrote the GPL - if you want to do that, you can release stuff in the public domain.

When I write software under the GPL, it is because I want it to be given away, used for free, and for people to be able to modify it and use it as they like. But I do not want someone else to be able to make money from it - if they want to do that, they can pay me to write software.

I would be interested to see whether the FSF and other authors would be interested in licencing parts of their GPLed software under a sperate licence for commercial companies. This would have enabled nVidia to avoid this mess, and could actually earn some money for the people that deserve it. But of course they would have had to pay the author - how unlike a large company, eh? To be fair, maybe they never even considered this possibility.

The only other obligatory comment is of course that MS may now be not so desperate not to reveal their source code. It is quite likely that they have used bits (at least) from other sources, now they can just promise it will be changed in time for windows 2000 service pack X.

Re:Heh.. (1)

Temporal (96070) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100312)

3dfx's drivers are way ahead, and much better, and alot contributing to that is because they are open..

Actually, the nVidia GeForce is the fastest card you can get for Linux right now, and the drivers (which I have been using since they came out) are quite stable. Haven't crashed on me yet, and I have been playing Q3A quite a bit over the past few days.

Not that I am happy about this GPL violation, or the fact that the drivers are closed, but they are VERY good drivers, especially considering the fact that they are "beta".


Re:You don't get it, do you? (1)

gargle (97883) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100313)

GPL is only in place *because* of copyright/patent/IP laws.

If it were a free world, we'd all copy and modify and distribute -- and everyone would have more of every piece of intellectual property.

In a world without copyrights, everything would be public domain. You could modify and redistribute, without having to give the source away. There would be no way to enforce the conduct required by the GPL, and everyone would have less of every piece of creative work since there would be less incentive to create in the first place.

We need to demonstrate backbone. (1)

BMcMillan (99256) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100316)

Funny how a company goes from initially supporting OSS (weren't their development drivers at least compilable?) to stating it's against policy to open the source to their drivers.

Even funnier when afore-mentioned company just received a large advance from M$ for developing the new GPU's for the X-Box.

Let's face it. Linux, and the general culture of copyleft is under siege. RIAA,, DeCSS, the list goes on and on. The line must be drawn here. The GPL is the one weapon we have against those who would like nothing more than to see Linux wither and die.

A weapon isn't a weapon if your enemies doubt your will to use it.

Sue NVidia. Demonstrate that violating the GPL has very real consequences. Even if we got $0.01 in damages, or got them to open the source to the driver, our point would be made:

Don't fsck with us.

People miss the point (again) (1)

linux_penguin (101961) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100320)

The fact is, not only have the original author's rights to this code been infringed... anyone who has downloaded the binary now has a *legal and binding* right to the source code for this driver... The driver is now a *derivative work*, and we now (we being people who have downloaded the binary) have a right to the source... like it or not, they have backed themselves into a corner and must now pay the price.

I will send $$$s to anyone willing to challenge this in court... not because I own one of their cards but a) they have infringed the GPL, and their response is less than satisfactory and b) open source drivers are always good, and now we have a right to the source for their driver, we should seize it...

Ask yourself, if you were to rip a section of their code (by reverse engineering or whatever), would they be so understanding??? Even if they removed the driver immediately (which they are not) the work they have supplied is a derivative of GPL code, and thus they *have* to supply the source to anyone they supplied the binary to.

Re:Don't sue them! (1)

linux_penguin (101961) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100321)

Problem is, I find it hard to believe that anyone could 'mistakenly' include GPL'ed source into a close sourced project.

Im sure there are plenty of close sourced projects that include GPLed code.. difference with Nvidia is, they got caught.

Also, remember, *my* and *your* rights are being infringed, not just the guy that wrote the code... we have a right to the code now, and we should make Nvidia cough up....

Re:This isn't a "Win"... (1)

cowscows (103644) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100330)

Yeah, but who would buy a binary open version of linux. Wouldn't that sort of take away one of linux's biggest advantages?

There's a big difference between doing what you suggest and copying a few lines for a driver and promising to fix it in a couple weeks when the problem is pointed out.

Yeah, what they did was wrong. Maybe it was a mistake, maybe it wasn't, either way, handling it with polite and productive discussion is definately the best way.

Re:Disadvantages? (1)

fgodfrey (116175) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100342)

There is basically only one disadvantage that I can think of, but it's kinda big - if you open the source to the driver of the video card, it would definetly help anyone who knows video cards (say, someone at ATI) who was trying to reverse engineer nVidia's chip. You'd be able to see what registers they have on the chip and how software can take advantage of them. Sure, you could just disassemble a closed source driver but it would sure be nice to have all the code, with the comments, right? :) I doubt that nVidia cares if Joe Random Linux user sees the source - what they would be afraid of is people at 3dfx or ATI or whoever looking at the source and then incorporating it into the next hardware revision.

Are their fears justified? Who knows, but nVidia has decided not to take that risk and unless you own stock in them, you don't have the right to argue about that descision.

All of this, of course, is seperate from what they did here - they can't just pick up random code off the net and include it in their drivers without permission!

Re:nVidia has incentive to remain closed-source... (1)

Isldeur (125133) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100345)

This is probably the best post I've read on this discussion yet. But, unfortunately, it won't get moderated up because it was posted as #88, not #10.

And I suppose it is also non-standard in view. Pity.

Not happy, but still wanting (1)

alphuris (126058) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100349)

It would be rather nice to have them actually Open source the code (it is still not working for me :( ) but I agree that they did handle this nicely. However, it would be rather difficult to not grab a chunk of code you used and be restricted to not GPL'ing it. I can't imagine how many more people probably fit into this same category.

Sueing? (1)

slyph (128349) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100352)

Would sueing (or threatening to sue) NVIDIA under GPL violation be an incentive for them to open source their existing kernel module? If this happened, I am sure that the OSS community would begin to create parallel (and better) drivers.

Disadvantages? (1)

kupolu (130094) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100353)

I really don't understand why they are so deadset on closed source. Are there any large advantages of closed source VIDEO DRIVERS over open ones? Open ones would get peer review and would probably get even more efficient/clean than closed source ones...

All that microsoft FUD about open source must of worked...

This is crap (1)

CurtisLeeFulton (134370) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100356)

Whoops, sorry one of our employees ripped GPL'ed code and used it in a binary-only release. But do we have a deal for you! We'll, (1) not release the source, (2) say "we're sorry" 500 times, (3) release a new closed-source binary sometime between tomorrow and the day of the flying swine.

Nivida hasn't done shit. They changed changed their PR spin and a bunch of nerds fell for it. Wake up people!

Re:This isn't a "Win"... (1)

lowe0 (136140) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100361)

C'mon, you've never used a piece of placeholder code? Ever?

They made an honest mistake not to take the code out. They'll have it fixed soon enough. Let's wait and see what they do before rushing to judgment.

Re:This isn't a "Win"... (1)

Kabloona (139412) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100362)

I definitely agree. nVidia, although not necessarily "profiting" from open source code, is benefiting from it and not following through by making the module open. If DeCSS can cause such a ruckus over copyright issues, the next time this happens the offending company should be required to make a donation to the FSF or other organization.

Mattel, take a lesson. (1) (142825) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100364)

Mattel and all the other lawsuit happy companies, maybe you should take a lesson.

In the CPHack case, if Mattel / MSI didn't file the lawsuit, it would have been a non-story. No thousands of mirror sites, not people talking about email bombs.

MSI could have changed the encryption (really scrambling) technique, then use a different technique for the passwords. Then block the sites with the code. And block the site

That is of course assuming that they didn't do this for publicity.

Once a company files a lawsuit, people dig in their heels, call for publicity, and then fight back hard.

In my lawsuit, most of the press coverage was due to their countersuit for the website libel.

Developers' OK not enough (1)

gunner800 (142959) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100365)

Mr. Metzler contacted NVidia and approved their plan to sort of sweep this under the rug. Hey, fine, that's a very civilized and decent thing to do. But the rest of us did no such thing. In fact, there are quite a few people pissed off enough to demand NVidia's code.

IANAL, but I believe everybody on the planet has a very legal claim to that code now. We have a right to demand it, and if we don't get it, we have a right to sue for it (and hopefully win).

GPL software is more-or-less communally owned, so the developer's OK just isn't enough. The whole world has to be nice to NVidia and other companies who accidentally include GPL code.

Dammit, my mom is not a Karma whore!

Nvidia should open all of the source (1)

Trollok (144022) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100366)

What are they? A hardware selling company or a driver selling company. They have nothing to gain and everything to lose by not providing open sourced drivers to a community of users who would surely give back and enrich the code far beyond anything Nvidia could do on their own. They are cutting off their nose to spite their face and I am not impressed with their tepid apology and dry corporate response. - -

Re:When will you learn? (1)

BitwizeGHC (145393) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100367)

Exactly. We share and they hoard. We get warm fuzzy feelings about our sharing.... and they get lots and lots of money.

Don't sue them! (1)

_xeno_ (155264) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100376)

Several people have said "sue the GPL violators" so far, so I'm going to respond to this one.

DON'T SUE NVIDIA! Wait until the next GPL fiasco. If it makes you look bad publishing a violation before talking with the parties in violation, imagine what it'll look like if you tell a company "You made a mistake, fix it." and then next week say "Oh, we're sueing you anyway."

Not a very good idea - NVidia being sued by a bunch of OSS advocates would more than likely get some press coverage. And if someone said that NVidia was told to correct their problem but people sued anyway then that sounds to me like it would be bad press. And OSS advocates definately don't need to shoot themselves in the foot.

Next company that does it, maybe sue them. But not NVidia, especially after they said they'll fix it.

(On the other hand, if they don't fix it after several months, sue them!!! )

Nail 'em to the wall (1)

child_of_mercy (168861) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100381)

There is still a problem here.

Lets say i'm a big bad closed source corporation.

Lets say i give my programmers code to work with.. without telling THEM its GPL

Lets say we distribute binary only releases based on it.

Damm hard for anyone to even tell if the source code was GPL to begin with right?

Lets say someone can figure it out, or gets a peak at the code and squeals to Slashdot/FSF (lets just say "the community")

Corporation apologises, corporation says it will get a fix out as soon as possible that isn't in violation.

  • unless they open the code who will know its been fixed?
  • not a bad way to develop, only having to do your own work where you get caught.
I think this is a good argument for signing GPL'd rights over to the FSF and for the FSF to REALLY take these buggers to the cleaners.

Being knowingly in violation? at worst a very large payment to the FSF should be in order something based on days in violation of the GPL. OR they can open the code as they agreed to do when they used GPL'd code.

just my 2c

you are too trusting (1)

child_of_mercy (168861) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100382)

You have a very trusting nature.

there might well be parts of Nvidia acting on this in good faith.

but its very likely there are other sections of management working on a "ask no questions hear no lies" strategy.

the other part of open source is of course that if they don't recontribute then they don't get their changes absorbed into the main body of code

is that a problem for card drivers tho?

That's it for me (1)

yem (170316) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100384)

Rich Black: I think it's one of those things where our corporate rule is that we do not open up our code, and we do not have open code, and we will not do that.

Well that's it for me - Nvidia will not be getting another cent out of me. I'll go with a company with a bit of foresight and respect for their customers.

Hurrah for N*Vidia! (1)

Yu Suzuki (170586) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100386)

I'd just like to give N*Vidia (are they of any relation to N*Sync?) for all the great things they've been doing lately -- they promptly apologized for their GPL violation and are now making an effort to fix the code. I think everyone in the OSS community can appreciate the positive manner in which this was handled.

However, one thing still concerns me. What would prevent N*Vidia from doing this again? How do we know that this shady "Tony Bennett" guy won't pillage from bttv.c the next time he needs to program something? Maybe every one of N*Vidia's future games will include GPLed code. Sure, we can whine and complain about it once they've done it, but it's a bit too late then, isn't it? IANAL, but if we don't take action to defend the GPL, doesn't it become invalid?

We have either two choices: A) Sit back and let the GPL waste away or B) Take action. I don't know about you, but I prefer Choice B. I propose a grassroots letter-writing campaign to your local senator or representative. Let them know about the GPL, what N*Vidia is doing, and why you think "Tony Bennett" should be banned from working on a computer for the next four year. I hate to say, but remember to be rude; as Slashdot trolls have proven, people are most likely to take action when they're being harassed by vulgar morons (look all the VA Linux stock price trolls that eventually resulting in CmdrTaco posting a story about it). Just remember above all the most important rule: Give me GNU or give me death!

Yu Suzuki

Don't abuse the GPL (1)

chompz (180011) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100392)

Will they change the code? Probally, but if they don't its not easy to catch them. GPL is powerfull and its a good license for software better for a customer than after the fact binary only licenses but that's a different discussion. The problem with current GPL is that closed source companys practically have to turn themselves in to be caught in violation.

It seems to be the general trend that violators are given a very light beating, not even close to compensating the OSS author for the work he/she did for a company they don't even work for. Another problem with OSS code is that its generally pretty well written and easy code to read. Definately tempting to see how someone else solved a problem...

Reverse Engineering, The GPL, And Closed Source (1)

Anonymous Cowart (180244) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100393)

Good evening all. My apologies if I sound a bit sluggish in this post, as it is about 2 in the morning and I have been working all day. It seems to me that NVidia would be completely off the hook if it were not for someone checking out their proprietary source code. Legislators would like this to be something that is not allowed to be done. More and more we see people being abused legally for exposing the "naughty" things that corporations do... when will this begin to spill over onto those who reverse engineer software to make sure there are no licensing violations? Where do you guys see this going? Do you think I'm off-base? Because I see a possible future where people are imprisoned for dismantling proprietary code, and I think we are seeing the beginnings of it now with some of the cases in court. Of course, I just could be way too tired to even make any kind of logical synaptical processes, in which case you should just not even read this post. Oh well. I don't know. Your comments, as always, are appreciated!

The Mad Poet, maker of Anonymous Cowart

Populus Vult Decipi, Ergo Decipiatur. []

From the article... (2)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1100396)

"Ralph was checking out the sources for the Linux 2.3 kernel, and he noticed that a chunk of memory conversion routines were copied line for line out of his bttv.c video driver source into Nvidia's code."

Of course I won't flame you for not noticing, because even though I saw this, I still have to wonder how exactly what that means in plain, non-developer english (like for example how you spot line for line code grabs from a binary, did he have the source to the driver on some kind of NDA, what?)
Anyway. I don't see NVIDIA doing too much here except emphatically stating it'll be fixed, like "Oh Jesus, let's get this 'GPV' outta our code or someone will want to see it all. And again we will not release our code because (insert corporate droning here)".

I still think NVIDIA's a neglectful company, no matter how much some PR guy promises that they'll fix their GPL violations, especially that last statement. "Maybe we'll open source it, but we probably won't because we don't but we might so you just never know <shrug>". I wish /. could relay this one message from me to them;

Either give the Linux users who own your cards decent drivers and support, or open them up so that we can do so for ourselves, or there will be no more Linux users for your products, and we'll drag as many Windows users as we can with us to the nearest friendly competitor. Got it?

Re:GNU and IP (GNU *is* IP) (2)

The Man (684) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100399)

In 5 years when they have to put food on the table for there 6 mildly retarted kids and strung out wife while trying to find a way to run a T1 line into the trailer park, they'll take a part-time job writing closed-source encryption apps for the local drug dealer to make ends meet.

Ah, the "life sucks and then you die" philosophy. Too bad I don't buy into that. I'll not mock the example, since it's certainly possible for some, but I will say that I seem to be supporting myself just fine without selling out. It's all about priorities. I have mine, you have yours. That they differ does not give you the right to insist that mine are somehow juvenile or inferior.

At issue here is the essence of liberty. The individual you mention has lost his liberty, not to nVidia, or to Microsoft, but to himself. He has thrown it away for something he presumably values more. I value nothing more, and will not have my liberty stripped from me nor will I throw it away for anything. He acts on his values, I on mine.

As an aside, I highly doubt the local drug dealer cares whether or not his applications are open source. His encryption keys, however...

Re:When will you learn? (2)

The Man (684) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100403)

How about showing them our way of life and SW development, and see if they don't come around eventually?

It's been 16 years. How long shall we wait?

We share. In good spirit.

We do. And they don't. And don't. And don't. And don't. And don't. And don't. At what point do attempts at peaceful coexistence become self-immolation? Enough is enough. They benefit from our efforts, even if it means violating the law, and yet we sit idly by while they give back nothing. They seem to like their set of rules. So let's play by them. The devil can cite scripture, to his end.

Re:Good job, Emmett (2)

Chris Siegler (3170) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100408)

Sorry if I felt like congratulationg emmett on good journalism and for taking away a trolls chance to first post.

Unless I miss my guess, that was a decent attempt at sardonic humor. Add a :-) to the end of what was said and reread.

Good job, Emmett (2)

sparky (3778) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100412)

Way to handle the story. And, both sides of the story. That's two more than Wired. ;)

I assume a header file (2)

tilly (7530) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100429)

In order to compile a binary driver into the kernel you need a public interface between the kernel and the binary. That public interface is a header file written in C.

I think it is pretty certain that Ralph Metzer was looking at the header file and got a strong sense of deva vu...


Yes, there are disadvantages (2)

tilly (7530) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100430)

In order to make the source open they have to give out good specs. From those specs their competitors can try to figure out how they produce their hardware. And that is what they don't want to have happen.

Does it really work like that? Possibly. Probably not. But that is the main reason given for not open sourcing drivers.

Of course the risk that they have to run is that someone will go out and reverse engineer their hardware. In not a few cases companies have had that happen with the result that dirty laundry they wanted to keep secret has been publically aired anyways. (eg The "secure" protocol just got reversed and turned out to be junk.) Which as often as not is another reason that they don't let people know how their stuff works. They don't want people to know how bad it is.


Good News, Bad news (2)

Maserati (8679) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100432)

On the plus side, NVIDIA is copping to their mistake. This is an example of how best to handle this sort of situation: polite emails to the company, gentle inquiries from the press, and open acknowledgement to the community that a mistake was made. This is how the Community should handle a minor violation (now, if the Win2K TCP/IP stack contains some GPL'd code... cry havok and all that).

On the down side, Nvidia has a binary that should have its source released. All of it, if I recall the GPL correctly. And there isn't any indication that this will happen. I don't even see any mention that Nvidia will be withdrawing the binary from distribution. "as soon as possible doesn't imply "let me just call the webmaster and have that file deleted".

I assume that they want to keep their drivers closed source out of some concern for trade secrets, or other similar corporate logic. As I interpret the GPL, they can't consider that code a trade secret any longer; some of it is GPL, and that's a virus of some potency.

Re:This isn't a "Win"... (2)

raistlinne (13725) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100435)

You're quite right. Why are they being left off so easily? After all, since the only thing which allowed them to redistribute the GPL'd code was their acceptance of the GPL, we can conclude that by distributing they accepted it. The people with the code should start asking for their source.

What sort of answer is "we copied some code out of a GPL'd program by accident". Give me a break! You have to be genuinely stupid to not know that linux is released under the GPL. And you also have to be genuinely stupid not to know that copyright exists. (both of these statements are made within the context of being a software developer in the US, etc.)

So my question is, what are the best tools to use to decompile code? I think that I'd like to decompile their "public domain" drivers and then post the decompiled source. recomendations?

Oh, and if it turns out that I wasn't right that they're public domain, I'll take them down in a few weeks.

Re:This isn't a "Win"... (2)

raistlinne (13725) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100436)

No, handling it by fulfilling their legal obligations and releasing source is the best way. What they're doing now is absurd. What they're doing now is the direct equivalent of stealing and then promising to give it back and expecting there to be no consequences. If you believe that copyright is worth anything, this whole situation is completely wrong.

Them simply removing the code is not very productive. It at least will mean that they don't violate the GPL (That we know of) any more in the future past not releasing source for their GPL-derrived work. What about the fact that they didn't release source? Does it really work that I can copy office2000 and the only thing that happens if I get caught is that I have to delete it?

Very, Very true (2)

raistlinne (13725) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100437)

You said it much better than I could. nVidia hasn't contributed anything worth while to the open source community, and I really wish that the copyright holders would play hardball here. I'll donate money to the legal offense fund.

Besides, how exactly does one accidentally borrow code? Did they confuse the linux bttv driver with their in-house bttv driver?

I'm with you. Fuck them to hell and back.

Sometime soon, the kernel people really should say, "As of version x.y.z, no more binary-only kernel modules will be permitted." It's not like linux needs binary-only kernel modules any more.

accident my ass (2)

blaine (16929) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100441)

How do you 'accidentally' steal GPL'd code? I find it really hard to believe that the person who took the code had no idea of the legal ramifications of it. To be quite honest, I think they knew EXACTLY what they were doing. But they did it anyways.

I'm not trying to troll here, but this really pisses me off. And I don't understand how people can be so blase about it. The fact is, they used GPL'd code in a closed source module. But instead of doing something about it, we're kissing their ass in the hopes that they'll one day update their Linux drivers so they aren't 5 years behind the Windows ones.

Face it, Nvidia is using the Linux community, and doesn't give two shits about us. And I would not be surprised if they aren't the only company that does things like this to cut down development costs.

Anyways, I'm ranting like hell, but I am pissed. They are breaking the law, but instead of doing something, we're just giving them a slap on the wrist. So at this point, Nvidia and every other company out there has been given the (correct?) indication that if they illegally use GPL'd code, they can just say "oh we're sorry, we'll fix it in a few weeks", and nothing will happen.

If we're going to be like this, might as well relicense all GPL'd code under the BSD license. Thats basically what we're allowing corporations to treat it as.

Thats enough of my ranting.

Caught with their finger in the jar... (2)

mjg (21046) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100445)

Well, it's good to see they will be fixing the problem (and so they should), but they're only fixing it because they've been caught, it seems.

They claim to have copied the code "without knowing it was GPL". What situations are there where you can just cut and paste some code, and use it without thinking about the permission to use it? Not many. They surely can't have been mistaken into believing it was in-house code, and since they're going to the trouble of developing for Linux, they must have at least heard of licenses and the issues surrounding them.

This is pretty poor in my book.

Re:Developers' OK not enough (2)

vectro (54263) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100455)

Wrong. Only the owner of a copyright can bring action against a violation.

We may view the software as being communally owned, but the law dosen't.

Lawsuit! (2)

vectro (54263) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100456)

Reading the relevant section [] of the copyright law [] , I notice that the winner of a lawsuit is entitled to recover attorney's fees, and damages of at least $750 per copy (up to $20000 a copy).

It seems to me that if the owner of the infringed works so desired, he could easily strongarm nVidia into opening their drivers; A lawsuit could end up being extremely costly for nVidia, since presumably several thousand people have downloaded the drivers.

I also notice that under the criminal section of the copyright law, if nVidia loses a lawsuit, they are subject to forfeiture of anything used in the copyright violation. This would probably include all servers and workstations, networking equipment, etc. -- even more reason for them to settle.

It is the purpose of the GPL to increase the amount of Free Software. The only reason I can think of NOT to make nVidia open the driver is that it would make other companies look real hard before looking at adopting Free Software. However, this will only affect people planning to redistribute free software, so I wouldn't think it would be so big an issue.

a small amount of bttv.c? (2)

jesser (77961) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100464)

how much?


spin management (2)

jxxx (88447) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100467)

A possible angle on this incident would be to take the moral high ground, as visibly as can be managed. Perhaps there is the slight possibility that closed source software developers who are a bit edgy about open source might be calmed a bit. While revenge is sweet for the short term, making open source philosophy appear a bit more friendly may see better returns over time

This is all too common (2)

willie150 (95414) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100470)

This is happening a lot more recently. It is easy to avoid. Every bit of code that I use from somewhere else, I check.

I think that the real situation is that they use the code and 'forget about it' until they get picked up, and then conviently apologise and put on a good show for the public.

The real question though, is how much more of this is there going on that we don't see or hear about?

Re:When will you learn? (2)

Temporal (96070) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100471)

You have the resources and the balls? Then go sue them! IANAL, but don't they have a legal obligation to give the complete source code, under the GPL, to every person who downloaded the binaries? So go download the binaries if you haven't already, and then demand the source code! If you get it, send me a copy. If you don't, sue their asses off, and set a precedent. I'm sure many of us /.ers would be willing to donate some money to the offense fund.


Re:Heh.. (2)

Temporal (96070) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100472)

You know what? You're right. I feel like e-mailing nVidia Nick right now and demanding the source code which they have a legal obligation to give me. Hell, I wonder if I could sue them myself... too bad I don't have the resources.


okay, everyone start diassembling. (2)

small_dick (127697) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100477)

...cuz it'll only take a couple weeks. it's not like their developers haven't already been tainted by the code.

why shouldn't an open source driver be tainted by nvidia's binaries?

fo all the people who say "give them a break, no one should sue them" just remember how fast their lawyers would flock to your anus if you disassembled or otherwise reverse engineered a single line of their linux driver.

but in closing, i have to say it's up to the FSF and RMS, or the developer. if they say a 2 week violation is okay with them, then i'm all for letting it slide.

sheesh, anyone else notice their $250 MSRP boards are getting marked up to $360+? maybe some of that cold cash could get diverted to open source...oops, i'm dreaming again.

You could attack nVidia, but... (2)

wolvie_ (135527) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100478)

There are a lot of posts suggesting nVidia should be attacked for their abuse of GPL'ed code, but that might not be the best approach. (This will probably be marked flamebait, but what the hell...)

Right now, Linux isn't the biggest market out there. I want better driver support from hardware manufacturer for Linux, and I also think their drivers should be open source, but I can see how manufacturers wouldn't have Linux on the top of their priority list. So when nVidia do get around to making XFree86 drivers, and accidentally use some GPL'ed code, the Linux users they are aiming to please (at least somewhat) become enraged, and suggest persuing nVidia by whatever means possible if they don't fix the problem immediately.

Now nVidia have clearly put some effort into producing these drivers - and can't open source them due to company policy and licensing restrictions - yet upon release are attacked by Linux users for not producing open source drivers. Then when they accidentally use some GPL'ed code - and agree to resolve the problem as soon as possible - they are attacked again, with posts suggesting they must provide remuneration to the open source community.

Who are nVidia trying to help here? Granted, they are doing so to be able to continue selling nVidia products to Linux users, but if we continue to attack them for everything they do to help, they may give up and stop supporting Linux entirely. They were careless, but are apparently trying to correct that mistake. If they don't within a reasonable amount of time, the open source community would be justified in attacking them, but in the meantime it seems the amount of cynicism here is a bit much.

Relevant. (2) (142825) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100480)

My comments here are relevent. I was trying to contrast this to the CPHack case.

Ralph Metzler and and Tony Bennett exchanged a few emails, problem solved.

In the CPHack case, there were hearings, spammed supeona, more hearings, etc. Still lots of mirrored sites, lots of bad feelings. And lots of legal bills.

Re:This isn't a "Win"... (2)

wholesomegrits (155981) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100481)

No kidding. People like to take the side of big business by painting GPL as some marauder beating them to their knees. Hardly. And for a company to say "oops" that's is such horse shit.

If I steal Nvidida's chip designs, and make my own video card, do you think they're going to say "well, as long as it was an accident and you promise not to steal from us again. Heck, take a few weeks to get things all figured out and keep selling the stolen chip designs."

If a company can't hire programmers to do their own work, and can't police it's super secret code very well, why the hell should anyone spend money with them? Screw all the crap about "well, they admitted it, so they shouldn't we shoudln't pass judgement on it. It will keep other companies from coming forward." Who reported the violation? Not nVidia.

But, it all comes down to lawyers. Corporations regularly screw over people, break contracts, etc...the GNU folks don't have a PR mouthpiece, don't have $250/hour lawyers. So they're left sit in the dust.

nVidia owes the programmers it stole from a royality, say 20%. That's still not right, but maybe they can end up with a little folding cash in their pockets.

A period of grace? (2)

-Harlequin- (169395) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100482)

The point has been made that this violation might not have been completely accidental, and may have been quite a beneficial "mistake" to have made.
On the other hand - people can make mistakes, and open source concepts like GPL are still a new concept to many.
I suspect the way forward might be an undefined period of grace during which companies can claim ignorance and get away with a tut-tut, but soon easing into more and more serious prosecution as the excuse loses its plausibility and GPL becomes more established in the commercial world. Once a few settlements have been made, giving profile to the new work ethic, violators get ruthlessly pursued by people who actually get off their butts and act, rather than just talk like I do :-)

Heh.. (2)

meff (170550) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100484)

They say they will fix it in .. two or three weeks? c'mon NVidia..

I don't understand why some companys just discourage opensource soo much.. 3dfx's drivers are way ahead, and much better, and alot contributing to that is because they are open..

Maybe we wouldn't have to wait months for a NVidia driver if they went open.. Do they care about the customer, or their own neck? If they don't start considering Linux and the customer, they're going to cut their own neck.


Very true. (2)

vavenger (177469) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100485)

Don't jump on the poor company just because they made a boo-boo. People have been doing one way of business for a long time (closed-source) and they're just beginning to start joining our way of thinking. That does, IMHO, give them a bit of room to screw up.

Here's an idea... (3)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1100488)

Why not just sue them and get it over with?
It's obvious that they were in violation, but there are many cases which are far more ambiguous. (Specifically, bundling GPL components with a commercial system.)

From my perspective the GPL is about as annoying as software patents. No, this is not a troll. This is the truth; what good is a license which has no legal backing? What good is a license which is ambiguous and frequently abused?
The strongest threats anyone in the GPL community can make are:

1) I'll have a thousand Slashdotters complain until the article rolls off the front page

2) I'll have Stallman send you a stern email telling you that his interpretation doesn't match with your interpretation. Please stop.

3) I'll take you to court (without being able to plead damages, because no money was lost.)

From a company's perspective, how can badly can I abuse a license where no monetary damages occur? Why would I want to become involved in GPL issues without understanding the REAL legal ramifications?

Although there are many people here who have strong *opinions* ... personal *interpretations* of the GPL - that's not good enough for a company. How long before the large companies who appear to support Linux (ie. IBM) recognize that their intellectual properties are at severe risk?

So I'll say again it. Will someone please TAKE THE NEXT ABUSER TO COURT and get this whole stupid thing settled.

Don't respond to this, there's no point. Everything about the GPL has been beat to death on this forum and on usenet. Put up or shut up. Go to court.


Excellent point. (3)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1100489)

Thank you - this is something that I've been thinking about for a long time. Whenever you create a bit of code, open source OR COMMERCIAL - there is no way whatsoever to make sure that your rights as the copyright holder will not be violated by someone else copying your source code, copying the relevant sections from a disassembled binary, or reverse engineering it and duplicating the functionality.

The dangers to Open Source and Free Software to this are all too obvious and have been amply elaborated upon in other posts, so I will not go into that here. But: imagine your company creates a closed-source tool that, say, processes images. In this, let's say that you have a filter that "textures" an image, using an arbitrary grayscale image to indicate contours. Now, imagine, three months later, you see somebody else come out with a similar product with exactly the same feature. How are you supposed to know whether they disassembled your code or not? How are you supposed to know whether they somehow got hold of a piece of your COPYRIGHTED source, and just stole that?

The only solution I can see is to insist on complete, keystroke-by-keystroke monitoring and logging of the creation of each and every source file, to be made available should a copyright lawsuit arise. These logs would naturally have to be kept whenever implementing a feature identical or similar to one in an already-extant product. And, to prevent companies with legal might to throw around such as Microsoft and Sun saying, "oops, no logs, but our high-priced lawyers will help you figure things out," absence of these logs would automatically put you in violation of copyright. This has to be done - there's no other way to protect our code.

Re:This isn't a "Win"... (3)

The Man (684) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100490)

Let's look at this in a more jaded way...

Jaded, Hell. We're not children (most of us anyway). We can see for ourselves how their world works. Until we can make our own we're forced to play in theirs. That given, this is simply reality. Corporations are easily dealt with when you remember that they're just after money. That's actually a good thing; it clarifies situations like this one. nVidia thinks they can steal from us. And why not, from their viewpoint? There's so much effort being made not to look like zealots that they know they'll get away with it, even if they're caught. So why not; hey, it's good for profits. And the only way to stop it is to make it BAD for profits. Simple enough. A no-limit game, if you've the stomach for it. We're showing that we don't; it's all too clear that they do.

Code reuse (3)

Chris Siegler (3170) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100491)

What if the offender had been another open source project? If they had used a BSD license instead of the GPL, for instance. Would they have been forced to change to the GPL? Would anyone have cared?

What if NVidia had just used a clever algorithm they found in an open source project?

I'm also confused on the point of how much and of what kind of code can be reused from other projects. Is any amount of cut and paste OK?

After all, the whole benefit of open source is to build on other people's code and learn from it, but licenses like the GPL say "touch it and you've bought it" as far as I can see. Although I'm sure that common sense dictates that things aren't in practice that strict.


WombatControl (74685) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100496)

Well, this is yet another win for the GPL - it looks like it's holding together well as more commercial organizations used GPLed software.

As for NVIDIA choosing closed-source development for their drivers, I have a feeling that they will come around eventually. Creative was not going to release SBLive! drivers as open source, but that changed rather rapidly when they realized that they could harness Open Source development to reduce development costs and keep up with the enternally evolving Linux kernel.

If NVIDIA wants to really compete in the Linux marketplace, then the GPL is a powerful enticement. Granted, they may not want to release their latest and greatest drivers quite yet, but it may be in their best interest to do so eventually. Look at how 3dfx makes generally lower-quality hardware (although I use a 3dfx card in my own box) but they've done a great job of capturing the Linux market with quality open-source drivers. Even though I think 3dfx doesn't have the advanced technology of NVIDIA's chips, I am more inclined to buy their products for my Linux box because of their support of the GPL. While people like myself are the minority, we're very vocal about these things.

At least NVIDIA is stepping in the right direction. I can understand their hesitancy to go the Open Source route, but I think that once they see that it will be a positive thing to their bottom line they'll come about in good time. As the article says, be polite about these things and let the power of Open Source speak for itself.

"sampling" GPL code (3)

cbentzel (94279) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100498)

Is it possible to write proprietary code that isn't a direct copy of GPL'ed code, but instead samples it and distorts it? For example, could proprietary code be "inspired" by the algorithms and data structures in a GPL'ed piece of code, but be completely original. Could it simply be the same code, but with replaced variable names, reordered assignments, etc.?

You can't take them to court (3)

cperciva (102828) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100499)

At least, if you do take them to court, you won't get anything out of them.
The case law is quite clear on this: If you violate someone's copyright unintentionally (eg, you think the material is in the public domain), you can be ordered to stop, but no punitive damages will be awarded. Which is, of course, exactly what nVidia is already doing.

We should all be glad for this anyway -- if punitive damages could be awarded for good faith copyright violations, /. would be in the middle of a very messy legal battle over their copyright violations with the Hellmouth book.

Re:When will you learn? (4)

heiberg (34548) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100503)

I hope to God I come up with something nVidia sees fit to use in their software. Because I have balls, resources, and a good mind to fuck them to Hell and back. It's long past time for this one-way street to come to an end.

Yeah, thats right. Do unto others as the bastards would have done to you, eh?

How about showing them our way of life and SW development, and see if they don't come around eventually? Do you really think we would have seen, let's say, open sourced SB Live drivers if the community had acted like rabid dogs fighting over snippets of code? Of course not. We share. In good spirit.

When someone trips and finds themselves with their head stuck in an unfortunate bodily orifice we help them get it out and get back on their feet. That is how we got where we are today, and that is how we will get even further in the future.


Demanding Open Source isn't just ideological (4)

divec (48748) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100504)

I am more inclined to buy [3dfx's] products for my Linux box because of their support of the GPL. While people like myself are the minority, we're very vocal about these things.

If the general linux public takes a different view then maybe they are mistaken. If NVIDIA go bust, or choose to stop supporting Linux, who will keep support for their card up to date? Now ask the same about 3dfx. Open source means more future-proof. Of course, it depends how long you want the hardware to last.

Re:GNU and IP: Legal != Moral (4)

divec (48748) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100505)

How can GNU be so holy if the little copyright "c" is meaningless?

Ok, there's two separate concepts. Morally meaningless, and Legally meaningless. Some people believe that the concept of IP, as the law sees it today, is Morally meaningless, because nobody has a right to restrict copying and distribution. But it is definitely not Legally meaningless, cos if you copy enough stuff you'll be in trouble. To ensure that free software stays free, you use your Legal rights over the software. You say people can only use it if they don't restrict others' Moral rights by putting burdensome Legal obligations on them not to copy it.

If, as some people advocate, copyright law were to be dismantled, the Legal protection given to your Moral rights by the GPL would vanish. However, also the ability to put burdensome Legal obligations on people would vanish, so there would be no need for a GPL. Until/unless that happens, the GPL is a good Legal tool for protecting Moral rights.

I think there's no conflict, as long as you get the distinction between Legal and Moral clear.

Re:When will you learn? (4)

toh (64283) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100506)

>The right way to handle this is to tell them that they can either
>release the module under the GPL, immediately, or go to court.

I agree, because the intention of using the GPL has always been to make more code open - the "virus-like" nature that some people condemn is, nonetheless, the point. Companies and authors rigorously defend other copyrighted material every day for their own motives of financial gain or creative control, and legally the GPL is nothing more or less than a copyright. Having them remove the offending code is not the motive for initially using the GPL - opening up the derivative code is.

Removing the code and replacing it with a functional equivalent doesn't even really address what they've already gained from it, either, because it was there during the development effort and its presence will have been partly responsible for the final state of the other, closed code in the project. In other words, not all the damage can be undone (but note that this point isn't likely to be addressed by copyright law - in fact the idea is more akin to patents).

However, since not everyone does have your resources, there need to be legal funds in place to deal with these cases.

How to *find* GPL violations? (4)

Dr. Zowie (109983) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100507)

One item I didn't see mentioned in the story: if commercial code is closed-source, how can you spot stolen^H^H^H^H^H^Hnoncompliant code? Much harder with a stripped binary...

Damn, I wanted a Bruce-Flame-Fest (5)

davidu (18) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100508)

I disagree,

While the /. way was perhaps more "kosher" and nice. We are linux users, we are zealots.

The appropriate way to handle it would have been to tell Bruce Perens and let him start a /. flame fest and not notify Nvidia. By giving them notice, we allowed them to explain themeselves, this is wrong and it makes them not seem so bad.

How can we stand for this? :)


When will you learn? (5)

The Man (684) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100509)

We're seeing more and more of this today. Why? Simple: it's hard to catch this, and we let them off when it is caught. The right way to handle this is to tell them that they can either release the module under the GPL, immediately, or go to court. Until someone does that, more and more people are going to take, take, take GPL'd code and use it for their proprietary binary-only projects, knowing full well that, much like an individual who shoplifts in the US, he won't likely be caught, and if he is the consequences will be negligible.

THIS MUST STOP. I guarantee you nVidia will NOT just ask you kindly to stop if you (for example) violate their license by reverse-engineering their software. Hell, no. Instead, you'll have a hundred letters from big-time lawyers in your mailbox, your ISP will be court-ordered to shut off your site(s), and if you're lucky you'll only be paying them off for the next 40 years after you lose in court.

We should be making it at least as painful for them. Threaten, sue, and threaten some more. They won't learn any other way. Our licenses are not negotiable. You want the DMCA? Well, then, IT GOES FOR US TOO. Follow the license or go to jail. Where were the copyright police today? They didn't have any trouble rousting out a 13-year-old kid IN A FOREIGN COUNTRY no less or fucking over, so where were they for this equal offense?

The GPL is every bit as binding, every bit as legal, and every bit as serious a license as any other. It's time we got tough about this. They're playing hardball, we're striking out one after another, and then when they're up to bat we give them intentional walks, one after another.

I hope to God I come up with something nVidia sees fit to use in their software. Because I have balls, resources, and a good mind to fuck them to Hell and back. It's long past time for this one-way street to come to an end.

Mistakes will happen BUT... (5)

tilly (7530) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100510)

The way you encourage mistakes not to happen is make them costly.

If it comes down to, "Apologize then clean up the header and say you fixed it" - that isn't costly. Do you have any reason to believe that code and algorithms which may have been borrowed in the binary was cleaned up as well? Of course not - doing that would make the fix potentially take longer. Companies generally don't play nicely and tend to have some trouble accepting that others actually might be so naive as to expect that they would.

At the least - very least - there should be an insistence on having the developer whose code was nicked get access (under an NDA if need be) to the source to verify whether more was borrowed. That should be an absolute minimum requirement before anyone believes them.

Preferably the driver should be forced to be GPL as per the licence which the code was distributed under. (That is, after all, the purpose of the GPL.) If they do not do that then they should seek an alternate licence from the author. Note that nothing in the GPL prevents the author from re-releasing a non-GPLed version. And yes, the author would be perfectly justified asking for gobs of money.

But no, none of this is going to happen. Which is why when people who don't think like lawyers start thinking that people who pay lawyers will play nice, they get the short end of the stick. Repeatedly.


This isn't a "Win"... (5)

rarose (36450) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100511)

Let's look at this in a more jaded way...

They used GPL'ed code to cut their development cost and they would have continued to use the code unless they were caught. Now they'll go back and remove it but there's still an incentive to use GPL'ed code in a closed way:
1) They probably won't get caught.
2) If they do, there's no penalty... just say "whoops... that was an accident"

The point is: If instead of GPL'ed code it was another company's copyrighted code, there is no way they'd get off we a "mea culpa... we'll be good boys now". There would have been extra cash involved or the company who got ripped off would have gotten some rights to the violating product... note that nVidia still doesn't think that they should have to open up the offending module.

Hell... why doesn't some company take Linux and relabel it as their own OS and sell it as a binary only. Then over the next four years they can go in and rewrite subroutine after subroutine in successive releases as people complain... the company will then have four years of revenue off of the work of other people.

GNU and IP (GNU *is* IP) (5)

Eric the .5b (49632) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100512)

While I applaud the handling of this on both sides, this sort of thing shows a blindspot among a lot of people here.

A lot of people here seem comfortable, simultaneously, with two very contradictory ideas. On the one hand, there's the idea that someone who claims "copyright" on something, say music, has no real right to demand that people not copy or distribute their works in a manner against the wishes of that person. On the other hand, there's the idea that someone who releases something under the GPL has every right to demand that no one violate that license and copy or distribute that work in a manner (sans source) against his/her wishes.

There's a deep conflict between those ideas, and Slashdotters who adore copyleft and ignore copyright need to recognize that and somehow resolve it.

In other words, how can GNU be so holy if the little copyright "c" is meaningless? I'm curious as to thoughts.

What, if any, ppenalties should be assessed? (5)

dragonfly_blue (101697) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100513)

If nVidia persists in using this code, and therefore continue to profit from its usage, they should now be asked to make concessions of some kind.

"We'll fix it on the next release" is a nice sentiment, but they have been infringing on Ralph Metzler's rights, and are currently violating the GPL, and will continue to do so until the next release, whenever nVidia decides that will be.

If nVidia really wants to make this right, they should either

  1. a. take down the offending drivers from their site today, and go back to the last revision or drivers without the offending code, or
  2. b. they should be asked to make the appropriate royalty payments to either Ralph Metzler and/or the Open Source community.

If a large company is caught infringing on the patents of another large company, they are usually asked to pay a licensing fee. This situation should be no different.

If we, as the Open Source community, decide not to pursue nVidia's immediate resolution of this, and persist instead in being "polite" instead of protecting our rights, we will find it infinitely harder to enforce our licenses in the future.

nVidia has incentive to remain closed-source... (5)

Sir_Winston (107378) | more than 14 years ago | (#1100515)

3Dfx's drivers may be much more advanced than those of other companies, but there's the rub: most other companies are not as good with their drivers as 3Dfx. That's why nVidia has incentive to remain closed-source--because their own drivers are pretty darned good, while the drivers of S3 and ATI totally suck and Matrox's drivers have only recently started to mature in terms of 3D acceleration and OpenGL.

What that means is, by opening the source to its drivers, nVidia is inviting the competition to inspect the secret sauce and help them in developing their own recipes. It's terrible drivers which have prevented ATI from becoming a big player in performance 3D, and mediocre drivers which held Matrox back. nVidia would lose an edge if it were to open up its driver source.

However, what the Open Source community needs to do with companies like nVida is remind them that their real advantage isn't in proprietary drivers, but in the superiority of their hardware. (For example, 3Dfx's drivers are typically great, but right now their soon-to-be-released Voodoo 4/5 boards are getting stomped by the GeForce 2 from nVidia thanks to its superior silicon). If they can be convinced that opening their driver source will yield better drivers and allow them to spend more R&D time on keeping their hardware more advanced than the competition's, then they'll do that, because nVidia's best advantage is its hardware--its driver advantages are more fleeting. What's needed is an effective evangelist to show them the way, like when a certain Apple CEO said to a certain soft-drink executive "Do you want to sell sugared water all your life, or do you want to change the world?" Or, when a certain essay caused Netscape to open the Mozilla code.

The key here is that open source's big players need to start pushing for these code openings. There's no earthly reason why nVidia couldn't be made to realize how well it could capitalize on its hardware advantages if it didn't have to put so many resources into driver dev.

As a final note, I doubt they could have been ignorant of their use of GPL'd code. Their driver dev people don't just go around using source code they find on the Net, without reading what the licensing terms are. That doesn't happen in a company like nVidia which is known for its good driver development team, a big company which surely has an interest in keeping its programmers from making costly mistakes by plagiarizing the IP of other companies. I'd be willing to bet that their use of GPL'd code was on purpose, not an accident, and that there's other GPL'd code hidden in those binary-only drivers. The corporate attitude is probably that stealing open-source code is okay. And that's yet another reason that we should try extra hard, but with honey rather than vinegar, to get them to realize the merits of open-source driver development.
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