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Interviews: Ask Free Software Legal Giant Eben Moglen

timothy posted about 2 years ago | from the is-it-true-you-dye-your-beard-just-to-fit-in? dept.

Privacy 56

At this summer's HOPE, Eben Moglen was one of the most incisive and entertaining speakers. But since only a small fraction of the Earth's population can fit into an aging hotel meeting room, you can watch his HOPE presentation via Archive.org on making the first law of robotics apply to cell phones. Besides being a professor at Columbia Law, former clerk in U.S. federal court as well as to Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, and a prolific writer, Moglen is founding director of the Software Freedom Law Center as well as the creator of the FreedomBox Foundation, and was for many years general counsel of the Free Software Foundation. Moglen has strong opinions, and a lot to say, about software licensing and freedom, copyright, patents, and (as you can see from the video linked above) about the privacy implications of always-on, always-on-us technology. Next week, I'll be meeting up with Moglen for a short interview. If you have a question for Eben, please post it below; I can't guarantee how many reader questions I'll have a chance to ask him, but the more, the merrier.

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56 comments

How do you feal about app stores? and how it may e (2)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about 2 years ago | (#41633869)

How do you feal about app stores? with there lock in and censorship issues?

Also do you think that it may end in court some day?

Re:How do you feal about app stores? and how it ma (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41634049)

Why would it end up in court? What law does an app store violate? And, no, the "Apple has a monopoly on iDevices" is not a valid argument.

I'm asking a Legal Giant about the laws not you! (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about 2 years ago | (#41634319)

I'm asking a Legal Giant about the laws not you!

Re:I'm asking a Legal Giant about the laws not you (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41634415)

Your also asking a question with a flawed premise.

Re:I'm asking a Legal Giant about the laws not you (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41635105)

let the courts be the judge of that

Re:I'm asking a Legal Giant about the laws not you (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41636047)

/.s Mental Midgets asking questions to a Legal Giant? Very picturesque.

Re:How do you feal about app stores? and how it ma (1)

Microlith (54737) | about 2 years ago | (#41636127)

I'm failing to see the problem with App Stores versus regular stores. The problem isn't with stores but the walled garden created by locking down devices and forcing people into that store.

Re:How do you feal about app stores? and how it ma (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41637121)

Walled gardens are perfectly acceptable and legal. That Slashtards dislike them does not make them illegal. You think the EU wouldn't gave done something by now?

Re:How do you feal about app stores? and how it ma (1)

Microlith (54737) | about 2 years ago | (#41638439)

Slashtards

Why are you here?

Isn't law a joke now? (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41633891)

I thought I'd take a law degree. I was doing well, but I quit after a year.

To put it bluntly, the US system of law is bullshit. A lawyer's job is not to make a purposive argument, as in Europe, but to get his client off on a technicality of wording. In criminal law, the impartiality of the jury is corrupted by a non-random final selection process. Regardless, law is as far as possible from something the common man is able to understand and defend himself with - though that is surely the purpose of rule of law over rule of man.

In short, by studying the law I was giving myself an advantage which every citizen should already have.

Hasn't the law just become a lawyer's game, today?

with some laws you need to be a lawyer just to und (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about 2 years ago | (#41633941)

with some laws as well as contracts you need to be a lawyer just to understand the legal part. Now will be are push to make that part easier to under stand just look at eula's where even if you read it all you still need to a be a lawyer to understand what you are singing.

Re:with some laws you need to be a lawyer just to (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41638003)

I'm asking a Legal Giant about the laws not you !

Re:with some laws you need to be a lawyer just to (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41640739)

I'm very unconvinced that "Joe_Dragon" is not a legal giant, prophet, or Eben Moglen answering questions early.

Re:Isn't law a joke now? (2)

Neil_Brown (1568845) | about 2 years ago | (#41634055)

... law is as far as possible from something the common man is able to understand and defend himself with ... In short, by studying the law I was giving myself an advantage which every citizen should already have.

I'm not sure why this is modded as flamebait — I'm qualified as a lawyer (although don't really think of myself as "a lawyer"), and I think there's a huge amount of merit in this. I wouldn't claim that law in Europe (or, perhaps more properly, any of the different states, since legal systems are not harmonised) is perfect, nor necessarily better, since I don't know the US system, but I do certainly agree that, if ignorance of the law is to be no defence, there needs to be fewer laws, more easily understood.

That being said, I studied law because I thought I would enjoy it, and that's what I keep on studying, researching, writing and thinking — becoming a law student as the shortest / cheapest route to becoming a lawyer perhaps makes sense, but it would be a tough three years without *wanting* to study it, I'd have thought.

Re:Isn't law a joke now? (1)

ThatsMyNick (2004126) | about 2 years ago | (#41634107)

This is a good point to discuss, but asking a lawyer about this in an interview is exactly what flamebait is.

Re:Isn't law a joke now? (1)

Neil_Brown (1568845) | about 2 years ago | (#41634223)

asking a lawyer about this in an interview is exactly what flamebait is.

Really? I think it's a very fair question to ask a lawyer — not all of whom think that the status quo is desirable. Eben is perhaps a particularly good candidate for such a question, as he's clearly a thinker, and is involved in both teaching students and the practice of law.

I could be wrong, and Eben, if asked, may spew all-caps vitriol in response to this, but I reckon he'd treat it as an interesting question.

Re:Isn't law a joke now? (1)

Synerg1y (2169962) | about 2 years ago | (#41634123)

This is why rich people almost always get off the hook in the legal system, it only applies to the 99%. What's important to understand is that laws from a basic / human rights perspective rarely make sense and are meant as more of a situational band aid... take something common like a DUI for example, it punishes drunk driving (quite severely in some cases), but it doesn't take into account the difference in how much the person has drank, or if when they were pulled over they were actually being a danger or not, much less why that person felt the need to drink and drive in the first place. Make sense? It's kind of difficult to visualize, but eureka and complete understanding of the folly of laws if you do.

Questionable GPL interpretations (4, Interesting)

LetterRip (30937) | about 2 years ago | (#41633943)

It is often asserted (ie by the FSF) that exposed C/C++/Python APIs for GPL software can't be used by non GPLed code unless a specific exception has been added to the license.

However, a non GPLed binary compatible API could be done that the plugin, etc. can be compiled against. Given that it seems like the GPL could not be enforced against driver compiled against a binary compatible API. Ie Alan Coxes recent assertion that Nvidia wasn't allowed to use a certain internal feature of the kernel should be readily made technically irrelevant, since Nvidia could create a stub binary compatible equivalent to the API to compile against, and then the user can install the driver and use it with the GPLed kernel without violating the GPL.

Is there a flaw in this reasoning or do programmers have a way to readily use GPLed APIs as closed source without violating the GPL?

Bypassing the API (3, Interesting)

cormander (1273812) | about 2 years ago | (#41633997)

On a similar topic; what about when the code bypasses the API altogether, and writes code changes directly to memory? Things such as kernel hot patches come to mind, and more specifically, ksplice. A modification to the code on a GPLv2 program is made, but no linking or APIs are used. How bound by the GPL, if at all, would this program be?

Re:Bypassing the API (1)

Microlith (54737) | about 2 years ago | (#41636225)

Pretty much anything like that is guaranteed to be a derivative work of the kernel/GPLv2 application and thus subject to the license. Particularly the output of ksplice since it acts on kernel sources directly.

Re:Bypassing the API (1)

Desler (1608317) | about 2 years ago | (#41637133)

Guaranteed? Based on what statutes or case law?

Re:Questionable GPL interpretations (1)

Desler (1608317) | about 2 years ago | (#41634091)

and then the user can install the driver and use it with the GPLed kernel without violating the GPL.

The user of the driver wouldn't be violating the GPL no matter what. The GPL comes into play upon distribution not use.

Re:Questionable GPL interpretations (1)

LetterRip (30937) | about 2 years ago | (#41634141)

"The user of the driver wouldn't be violating the GPL no matter what. The GPL comes into play upon distribution not use."

I meant that the getting of the driver to the user without distributing the source to the driver would not violate the GPL.

Re:Questionable GPL interpretations (1)

LetterRip (30937) | about 2 years ago | (#41634125)

A point/example I meant to raise above would be projects like WINE or Dalvik, that reimplement APIs that are binary compatible with APIs of other OSes. Obviously I can compile a a program against the official windows API and then run it in WINE, and yet the LGPL (or GPL if I compiled the WINE using that clause) would almost certainly not make my software a derivative of the WINE software. This seems directly analagous to the case above where I rewrite a binary compatible API, compile against it, then run the driver with the GPLed kernel.

Or alternatively - a case that is more personally relevant would be individuals creating closed source scripts against the Blender python API. Or closed games that are interpreted by the GPLed blender game engine and use the Blender python API.

Re:Questionable GPL interpretations (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41634161)

Yes, but you have to do all the work yourself. You can't just write a thin wrapper round the existing API (because the wrapper would have to be GPLed). You have to reimplement all the functionality.

Which doesn't help any. Nvidia want to use the DMA API without reimplementing the functionality; if they do reimplement it, the API won't matter.

Re:Questionable GPL interpretations (1)

LetterRip (30937) | about 2 years ago | (#41634513)

No you don't have the implement the functionality, just the API.

Ie if the GPLed api has

int Square_Root(int x);

then my binary compatible test API can just do
int Square_Root(int x) {return x;}

It doesn't have to be functionally equivalent (or even if it is functionally equivalent a far simpler method to implement) just binary compatible to compile against.

Re:Questionable GPL interpretations (1)

Desler (1608317) | about 2 years ago | (#41634261)

Well of course it wouldn't be a derivative of Wine. You didn't link to any of the Wine code. Also, there is no GPL version to compile of Wine. It is strictly LGPL.

Basically, since you can't copyright the API itself, as long as you reimplement the API yourself such that your version is not a derivative work itself there are no copyright issues. Even if it ultimately ends up running against a GPLed implementation due to binary compatibility.

Re:Questionable GPL interpretations (1)

LetterRip (30937) | about 2 years ago | (#41634489)

Read the LGPL license - at the users option it can be converted to the GPL.

Re:Questionable GPL interpretations (1)

OdinOdin_ (266277) | about 2 years ago | (#41637957)

You mean 'converted to GPL' only on a re-release and redistribute ?

This presumes the user has access to the source code of the LGPL work in the first place. The user can not convert to GPL if they don't have the source code of the LGPL work, since thy could never honour their own obligations. A LGPL user can not demand source code from the redistribution point they received a binary works.

Re:Questionable GPL interpretations (1)

OdinOdin_ (266277) | about 2 years ago | (#41637843)

Why not NDIVIA just wrapper the API symbols in new NVIDIA Copyrighted code that is also GPL and re-export new symbol names.

This extra "shim" module is now free for use by the NVIDIA blob the link against since it is both compliant with GPL and since they are the Copyrights holder they can provide special license back to themselves for their binary blob.

I find it funny that symbols can have licenses on them, in that all NVIDIA needs to do provide a crappy implementation of the same API mechanics to prove to a court the use of the API symbols is not tied to a single implementation of those symbols. Since you can now theoretically interchange between two competing implementations, the GPL one included in mainline kernel and the proof-of-concept one NVIDIA created for the court of law.

Re:Questionable GPL interpretations (1)

tolan-b (230077) | about 2 years ago | (#41639879)

On a related note, the application of the GPL to scripting languages is terribly unclear as linking isn't something that happens there. There seems to be no decent advice out there on how to apply the GPL when a script library uses it.

Re:Questionable GPL interpretations (1)

grumbel (592662) | about 2 years ago | (#41640759)

Yep, things also get extremely unclear when it comes to media. Can I for example use a CC-by-sa graphics in a GPL'ed game? Can I ship them in the same .zip? Can I inline them into the same .exe? It's not clear where aggregation stops and where it starts to be a derived work. And just as for scripting language, I haven't seen any good advice on how to deal with those situations either. People on Debian might complain and rip graphics out of a game before they package it, but there is very little good advice on best practices when actually building a complex Free Software project that combines different pieces under different licenses. None of the FAQs seem to properly answer those basic questions.

My questions (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41633987)

Do you have a birth defect that makes you such a freetarded faggot? Also, why does your name sound so stupid? Couldn't your parents think up a less stupid name?

Free Software Legal Giant (2)

wonkey_monkey (2592601) | about 2 years ago | (#41634011)

If you were to stand next to Software Titan Bill Gates, would you both seem normal-sized?

How do I write a EULA? (1)

GoodNewsJimDotCom (2244874) | about 2 years ago | (#41634065)

I am writing a video game by myself. I don't have money to pay a lawyer for a EULA. Can I copy/paste a game similar to mine's EULA, and make modifications by hand? Is it better to have a bad and hacky EULA than no EULA at all?

Copy and Paste (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41634119)

Can I copy/paste a game similar to mine's EULA, and make modifications by hand?

Lawyers already do that. So, why not? :)

Re:How do I write a EULA? (2)

Neil_Brown (1568845) | about 2 years ago | (#41634147)

Not legal advice, but some thoughts:

I'm qualified as a lawyer (and employed as one, but I'm not your lawyer, this is not legal advice etc.) and it's a subject close to my heart. Were I in your position — I wish I were as talented to be able to write a video game — I would ask myself what I was hoping to achieve with the EULA. Is it because other games flash something up in front of a user that you feel you should have one too?

I'd ask myself what is it that I was looking to achieve with it? Some sort of financial / legal protection? Wording to prevent people from copying / distributing my game (not worth the (digital) ink it's written on; those who want to share it will)? Attempting to legitimise sending people marketing email?

Once I'd worked out what I wanted, I'd just try writing it in plain English — if a lawyer writes it, there's a high chance it's going to suck from a readability point of view and, unless it's a game designed for lawyers, if you are hoping *anyone* will read it, being in normal English would be helpful.

If I were to still think I needed something, I'd see if there was a better way of achieving the end than flashing up text which just destroys the user experience — for example, if I wanted to ask people's permission to market to them, could I do this actually in the UI, in a transparent and friendly way?

If it's limitation of liability and such like, then talking to a lawyer may be a plan — but I would want to ask upfront how much everything would cost, what my exposure was, and what the likelihood of whatever the lawyer did reducing that exposure, so I could make a realistic risk assessment before spending my money. And I'd ask for a fixed price, rather than an hourly rate.

Anyway — just my thoughts :)

Re:How do I write a EULA? (1)

game kid (805301) | about 2 years ago | (#41634607)

Interesting one to me; the GPL [gnu.org] is itself under copyright and asserts that it shall only be copied and distributed, not changed (except by, say, section-7 exceptions); but see also "Can I modify the GPL and make a modified license? [gnu.org] ". Of course, the GPL is No Ordinary EULA(tm), and only requires you to agree to it when modifying or "propagating" the work.

Re:How do I write a EULA? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41635677)

I think what they are saying is, you don't have the right to change the terms of the GPL, and still call it the GPL.

That would be confusing because it would imply that your modifications applied to all of the GPLed work out there (which they don't, because for most of that work, you are not the copyright holder).

Re:How do I write a EULA? (1)

westlake (615356) | about 2 years ago | (#41635621)

I am writing a video game by myself. I don't have money to pay a lawyer for a EULA.

But you can afford all the hardware and services required to develop and distribute your Indie production?

Have you taken into account all other possible legal issues?

The one-man-band is rare.

The guy who is equally adept at game design and programming, art and animation. Music and sound. Vocal performance... and so on, endlessly.

Somewhere along the way you are going to need help with your project..

You need to be thinking about property rights, performance rights, about contacts.

Re:How do I write a EULA? (1)

icebraining (1313345) | about 2 years ago | (#41637243)

No. EULAs are written works much like anything else, and therefore subject to copyright themselves.

Getting FreedomBox to the masses (1)

Neil_Brown (1568845) | about 2 years ago | (#41634191)

Eben — we spoke about FreedomBox at the FSFE conference in Amsterdam a couple of years back now. It sounded then, just as it does not, an interesting project. I've kept an eye on it over the last couple of years, and am pleased to see it's got to a developer release; I've ordered a plug server to be able to test it out. I'm keen to understand how you plan on turning it from a niche project for geeks into something in the mass market. I know you are working on making the GUI user-friendly, so it is suitable for consumers, but do you have any thoughts on how you would get this in the hands of those consumers?

Are you prepared for tomorrow's F/OSS battles? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41634205)

We all remember MS's Halloween documents. However, the battle for F/OSS is going to shift from dealing with patents, to dealing with closed hardware, platform lockdowns, and anti-F/OSS EULAs.

With hardware being secured, it is likely places will be able to use GPL code without having to adhere to the license, because people won't be able to find out, and if they do, they did it running afoul of the DMCA or other treaties which would render any civil judgement moot.

Is there a way to slow down the "Tivo-ization" of computing as a whole these days, especially the encroachment of locking down the desktop with stores, Secure UEFI boot, and requirements that all ARM based machines only allow MS software to work?

Language (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41634679)

Why did you think it is a good idea to keep the technical definitions within the gpl vague?

Venue is important. (1)

fahrbot-bot (874524) | about 2 years ago | (#41634735)

... only a small fraction of the Earth's population can fit into an aging hotel meeting room, ...

If only they had chosen a newer hotel... Of course, having the entire Earth's population all in one place [xkcd.com] also has its problems.

Dynamic linking and copyright (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41634793)

The GPL FAQ states

Linking (a library released under the GPL) statically or dynamically with other modules is making a combined work based on (the GPL'd library). Thus, the terms and conditions of the GNU General Public License cover the whole combination.

If the link is dynamic, the person making the link (the end user) is not distributing the combined work, nor is the distributor of the client program if he does not also distribute the library. By what legal theory does distribution of the client program by itself infringe the GPL'd library's copyright?

derived works and Linux kernel GPL-only symbols (1)

jeffsw6 (2730735) | about 2 years ago | (#41634803)

Dear Mr Moglen, I am developing proprietary software which will eventually become an "appliance" of sorts, and will need a kernel to run on. However, this software will also require proprietary NIC drivers, extensions to the kernel's TCP/IP stack, and overall, will add many functions which need to run in kernel-space and be accessible by user-space programs. The Linux kernel's somewhat recent move toward "GPL-only symbols" presents a problem for people like myself, who are suddenly no longer sure Linux is an appropriate kernel that can serve their needs in the future. It also muddies the waters such that a company can no longer be ensured that code which can load as a module is free from becoming encumbered by the GPL. I may be required to choose a different kernel than Linux for my "appliance" because of this uncertainty. I will certainly need to plan for supporting more than one underlying kernel, for example, the ability to run atop (and load into) both Linux and FreeBSD. Can one expect their product to be labeled a "derived work" if it functions entirely as a loadable module and does not make use of GPL-only symbols? The answer from some in the Linux community is still yes. Does this change if the work is also compatible with a different kernel, and thus is a marketable product offering the user a choice of kernels, or perhaps, simply defending the business from becoming "locked in" to a kernel with a foggy future for proprietary software? Should all makers of "appliances" who need loadable modules to interface with proprietary hardware now see the Linux kernel as a dead-end platform? We may find ourselves having to contribute code to FreeBSD to bring some of its VM capabilities up-to-speed with Linux, which would benefit the free software community. However, we are not sure we can open-source and GPL-license the in-kernel code we need to make our proprietary hardware and "appliance" work -- it's part of the secret sauce. This is why Linux is an uncertain option.

Copying vs. stealing? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41634933)

Is copyright infringement theft?

I'm interested in both a moral/ethical answer and in a legal answer (bonus points for an answer in "international law" since I'm not American).

Re:Copying vs. stealing? (1)

icebraining (1313345) | about 2 years ago | (#41637353)

I have no idea what do you mean by "international law".

As for the US, the SCOTUS said "interference with copyright does not easily equate with theft, conversion, or fraud. The Copyright Act even employs a separate term of art to define one who misappropriates a copyright: '[...] an infringer of the copyright.'".

Alan Cox (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41636917)

Have you asked Armchair lawyer and genius Alan Cox for his scholarly advise recently?

Even Eben/Moglen, or as I have recently taken to calling him, Eben plus Moglen needs scholarly advise.

Do(/Should) I have a 'Right To Serve' on the 'Net? (1)

jdogalt (961241) | about 2 years ago | (#41637341)

I've recently been championing an interpretation of Network Neutrality which assumes that all ISP customers (of all service tiers) have the right to host and run servers from their connections (presuming IPv6 environment, ignoring IPv4 address scarcity case). I apparently even got Dave Schroeder, someone who publicly identifies themselves in slashdot comments as a Navy Information Warfare Officer to give high praise[1] to a draft of my manifesto[2], which, with his help (getting an email address) has led it to the inbox of one Mr. Vint Cerf who is now reading it and investigating further (unless someone impersonated him via insecure email). Anyway, I think from my manifesto it is clear that I likely share some visions with the FreedomBox project, which I suspect is just as effectively dependent on a 'Right To Serve' landscape/net-ground-rules as I am rallying for.

[1]
http://news.slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=3156485&cid=41516877 [slashdot.org]
http://news.slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=3156485&cid=41530745 [slashdot.org]

[2]
http://cloudsession.com/dawg/downloads/misc/kag-draft-2k121007.pdf [cloudsession.com]
http://cloudsession.com/dawg/downloads/misc/kag-draft-2k121007.txt [cloudsession.com]
http://cloudsession.com/dawg/downloads/misc/kag-draft-2k121001.pdf [cloudsession.com]

Re:Do(/Should) I have a 'Right To Serve' on the 'N (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41639515)

Mod parent up, seems like an important question. The internet is turning into oligarchy instead of its former peer to peer nature. These choke points make censorship and surveillance easier. How long before email can only be sent from gmail to gmail?

Re:Do(/Should) I have a 'Right To Serve' on the 'N (1)

jdogalt (961241) | about 2 years ago | (#41643267)

Mod parent up, seems like an important question. The internet is turning into oligarchy instead of its former peer to peer nature. These choke points make censorship and surveillance easier. How long before email can only be sent from gmail to gmail?

At the risk of losing my excellent slashdot karma for the first time in my life, I'll shamelessly continue my network flooding to get this issue into the public debate. Especially since I remembered after posting the question last night that I had already brought the issue to the attention of join@freedomboxfoundationorwhatever.org over a month ago. Unless my words are being censored by Navy Information Warfare Officers, I'm still boggled by how off the radar this topic is. Part of me hopes Mr. Cerf answers me by the one week(and a bit) deadline I gave him/Google. But given no response yet, I'm now leaning towards the theory that Google's lawyers have taken over (which given my aggressive language throughout, is understandable. Though I would hope Mr. Cerf, if anyone on the planet, could rise above the lawyer level. In several ways, I've already sacrificed any personal legal case I have, and put myself on the mercy of the system, and hopefully the validity or not of my logical and moral arguments).

How to explain the importance of software freedom? (2)

Subm (79417) | about 2 years ago | (#41639199)

Having worked with Thurgood Marshall and teaching at an Ivy League Law School you witness and can contribute to many causes I'm sure you find more than worthy of your attention. I'm sure people in many areas would love the benefit of your skills, knowledge, etc. Yet your long-term dedication to software freedom (not sure if that term encompasses everything you work on, but I hope it suffices) seems focused. I bet many of us are curious where your motivation and focus comes from, especially those looking to find areas and causes to contribute to. I'm sure your inner-geek plays a big role, loving what we do like all of us do.

My main question: How do you describe the importance of software freedom, both to Slashdot readers and to those who would never read Slashdot, in the context of so many other causes out there?

Personally, I contribute to software freedom partly because the geeky aspects appeal to me, but also because I consider it one of the most important issues of our time. I've never tried to justify how important I consider it to others, but I bet people would challenge me if I did. I suspect you've found ways to express these things. I think most non-geeks consider software licenses unimportant, whereas I think of them on the forefront of protecting the First Amendment in the U.S. and values of freedom of expression worldwide.

A related question: What other areas or causes do you consider comparably important, if any?

Linux and ZFS licensing (1)

Guy Smiley (9219) | about 2 years ago | (#41660001)

The ZFS filesystem is a robust, modern filesystem originially developed on Sun Solaris that contains many advanced features and is being used (among other things) on the largest computer in the world, LLNL Sequoia, which is running Linux.

ZFS is licensed under the Sun CDDL, which is an OSS-approved license. As ZFS was originally developed for Solaris, it is not a derived work of Linux or other GPL software. There is little hope of getting the ZFS copyright owner (Oracle) to relicense it under GPL. Since open source software is intended to increase users' freedom instead of restrict it, there is still a broader community of users would like to make ZFS on Linux [zfsonlinux.org] available to the masses as part of easily-used Linux distributions.

It seems relatively clear that combining ZFS and Linux source code and compiling it on your own is permissible under the GPL if one does not redistribute the combined work, but there is uncertainty about whether it is legally safe to distribute ZFS and the Linux kernel together in either source or binary form.

Unlike issues with binary kernel modules that have proprietary licenses and/or are closed source, in this case the ZFS code is open source and has none of the objections that traditionally surround binary kernel modules, and it is in fact the GPL license that prevents distributing two open source components together if they do not both use the GPL license.

Under some interpretation of the GPL, ZFS is an independent work and can function on its own without the Linux kernel (there is a userspace component that can be used to run regression tests on the code independent of any kernel), but the Linux-compiled ZFS kernel module itself is not useful to users without the kernel.

Would you consider distributing ZFS binary Linux kernel modules (together or separately from the kernel) a violation of the GPL? Would the binary ZFS kernel module be considered "not based" on the Linux kernel per the GPLv2 section 2, the last paragraph that allows "mere aggregation" of another work packaged independently on the same media or download site? Would it be permissible if the ZFS code were distributed as a source package together with the binary kernel and compiled on the end-user system at installation time? Failing that, would the FSF be willing to make a special exemption to the GPL to allow ZFS to be bundled with Linux?

Moglen Interview Re:publica 2012 (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41704571)

Moglen gave a brilliant 20 minutes interview at the Re:pulica 2012 in Berlin: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HJCczbSF-B8 [youtube.com]
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