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USDTV Subscribers Gouged For Linux USB Keys

kdawson posted more than 7 years ago | from the flaunting-the-GPL dept.

Television 191

Former USDTV Subscriber writes "A few weeks ago, Salt Lake City-based USDTV discontinued their service. USDTV used the Hisense DB2010 as subscriber boxes, with Linux based firmware. USDTV should have released the source and binaries as required by the GPL, in order for customers to create a USB key to convert their DB2010s to FTA HDTV boxes. Instead, they chose to hand the keys to former USDTV subcontractors. Cable Communications is coming to subscribers' houses and updating the boxes, but not leaving a USB key. ProServ is selling USB keys. But 'Due to copyright laws you are only allowed to purchase one of these keys if you have proof of being a current or previous subscriber to USDTV.' USDTV customers are being charged $30 for a service and/or files that should be freely available to anyone who has a DB2010 in their possession. There is a thread on the AVS Forum detailing the whole debacle."

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Possibility of GPL Validation (5, Insightful)

MrWGW (964175) | more than 7 years ago | (#18508341)

Well, this would be a great opportunity for a lawsuit, instigated by the FSF or another stakeholder in the matter. The flipside of that, however, is that proponents of proprietary OSes would then immediately cite the case as an example of the "dangers" of using Linux.
Tough call; I'm in favor of an attempt to enforce the GPL (and potentially get validation from a US court that it is, in fact, a legally enforceable license).

Re:Possibility of GPL Validation (2, Interesting)

Lockejaw (955650) | more than 7 years ago | (#18508399)

Tough call; I'm in favor of an attempt to enforce the GPL (and potentially get validation from a US court that it is, in fact, a legally enforceable license).
Either that, or it becomes a really verbose BSD license. I personally prefer BSD, but I think this would be a Bad Thing.

Re:Possibility of GPL Validation (0, Redundant)

bcmbyte (996126) | more than 7 years ago | (#18508849)

I totally agree, I would like to see the GPL validated and enforced. Hold their feet to the fire!

Re:Possibility of GPL Validation (2, Informative)

sumdumass (711423) | more than 7 years ago | (#18509529)

Who are you going to suit? The company is closing it's doors. Being that it is a corporation, your not going to go back on the investors or owners or anything like that. You might be able to block the distribution of assets until the firmware source is released but if a hurry isn't put on it, that might even be too late.

Re:Possibility of GPL Validation (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18508493)

Proserv is definitely in violation of the GPL if they are not providing access to the source. If someone buys the thing they offer and Proserv does the compliance thing, then any of those people who bought it are within their rights to share the source with anyone they like. But if I understand it correctly, Proserv is supposed to be obliged to make the source available. I'm uncertain about the binaries. I'm sure thousands of other people who know more will reply here as well...

Re:Possibility of GPL Validation (5, Insightful)

Qzukk (229616) | more than 7 years ago | (#18508517)

would then immediately cite the case as an example of the "dangers" of using Linux.

To which you respond by asking what they would think if the company had installed windows on all of these boxes without paying for a single license.

Same thing either way. You either pay with the code, or you pay with your cash. Or use BSD.

Re:Possibility of GPL Validation (4, Informative)

dch24 (904899) | more than 7 years ago | (#18509269)

USDTV has been doing a little of both: selling and leasing boxes to customers. But at this point, they are going into their second (or, depending on how you look at it, third) bankruptcy because the CEO and the president of the company have been ... well, doing some shady things.

Most of the (former) employees of USDTV (full disclosure: I was) were doing what it took to get a decent alternative to cable off the ground. It seemed like a good idea: send digital video over the air on unused bandwidth, capitalize on the switch to ATSC broadcasting, and earn a little revenue with some extra offerings, like PVR, pay-per-view, and some of the most popular cable channels. It was a very limited channel selection (plus all the free HDTV channels), but there were almost no infrastructure costs.

But the company had a serious problem with "too many chiefs, not enough indians" and after the second round of VC funding, the "chiefs" couldn't drum up any more loans. So now they're shutting down. There are lots of small startups in Utah that fail. It gives Utah a bad name in VC circles.

Tim Rikers (who does bzFlag) has been in contact with the company for some time, trying to obtain GPL compliance in the form of source code that will run on the HiSense box. If any of you out there would like to sell me your HiSense box, we can probably work out a deal. They're very capable of doing something like MythTV. As far as I know, USDTV has stalled until they're closing the doors.

And now, they're making you pay $30 to prevent your box from going into "Please Activate" mode, since none of the boxes will receive activations anymore. (Technically, they won't go into "please activate" until the first power outage.) In my opinion, they were in violation of the GPL for selling a GNU/Linux-based system to some of their customers, and now that they're giving the rest of the boxes to the customers (sort of by default), they are still in violation of the GPL. There are no GPL notices anywhere in the system, unless you connect by a serial console (I can give you pinouts, and maybe a password or two) -- then you'll get the login: prompt.

I don't think a lawsuit is going to do a whole lot of good. But I think if anyone tried to acquire USDTV's IP and sue someone or a website doing hacking on the box, they'd make SCO look like a profitable venture. What is it with Utah businesses?!

Re:Possibility of GPL Validation (2, Funny)

init100 (915886) | more than 7 years ago | (#18509609)

There are lots of small startups in Utah that fail. It gives Utah a bad name in VC circles.

I guess failing startups may not be the only thing giving Utah a bad reputation in VC circles. There is also a company called SCO...

Re:Possibility of GPL Validation (1)

SeaFox (739806) | more than 7 years ago | (#18509699)

If any of you out there would like to sell me your HiSense box, we can probably work out a deal.

Why don't you just buy one off eBay, there are quite a few available [ebay.com] .

Dangerous to use Linux? (2, Informative)

AP2k (991160) | more than 7 years ago | (#18508973)

I cant see what the problem is with using other's works and having to abide by the terms set forth by the author. "If you want my help, you are going to do it this way" is what it amounts to. Linux devs dont just throw their code out under GPL for shits and giggles.

I dont see it as a danger, but rather a very stern warning that you abide by the author's license terms if you use their work. If you have something trade secret-related that you cant just hand out to anyone that wants it, you can code it yourself.

Re:Dangerous to use Linux? (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18509305)

Using your logic, why don't Linux hippies stop reverse engineering closed software when they see the "Do not disassemble" clause?

Or is it another case of double standards? "Do what we want, not what they want!".

Re:Dangerous to use Linux? (1)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | more than 7 years ago | (#18509371)

Or not rip .mp3s from store-bought CDs and share them around, after opening several layers of boxes with (c) all over them, for that matter.

Re:Dangerous to use Linux? (2, Informative)

init100 (915886) | more than 7 years ago | (#18509667)

Using your logic, why don't Linux hippies stop reverse engineering closed software when they see the "Do not disassemble" clause?

I don't think reverse engineering network protocols or file formats (which is mostly what the reverse engineering done by the "Linux hippies" is all about) can be counted as disassembling the software. Disassembling the software is just that, applying the reverse of the process of the assembler, to produce an assembly file from the binary. This is rarely, if ever, done to reverse engineer network protocols or file formats.

Re:Possibility of GPL Validation (5, Informative)

Chandon Seldon (43083) | more than 7 years ago | (#18509069)

Your question: "The GPL has never been tested in court, is it really legal?" is way over-hyped. It originated as FUD from the SCO case. Legally, the GPL is on really solid ground - even moreso than EULAs for commercial software. It's a copyright license. Either the user agrees to it and gets to take actions not normally allowed by copyright law in exchange for whatever terms are in the license, or they don't and are restricted by copyright law.

But... even if the GPL needed a test case, this wouldn't be it. This case would be about whether $30 was a "reasonable" fee to distribute source code, and given that USB keys are like $15 the judge would probably rule that it's close enough to the cost of media to be OK. Even if the judge ruled that $30 was too much, the penalty would probably only consist of a requirement to charge $25 in the future and refund $5 to anyone who payed $30 and asks for the refund.

Re:Possibility of GPL Validation (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18509151)

Why does everyone think the USB key contains the source code? It's just how you update the firmware on these boxes. You plug in a USB stick with the new firmware image, power on the receiver and wait a couple of minutes while the new firmware *binary* is written to the flash memory chip. That's just one more binary distribution that warrants a corresponding source offer, which is, in violation of the license, nowhere to be seen and neither is the source.

Re:Possibility of GPL Validation (1)

Chandon Seldon (43083) | more than 7 years ago | (#18509355)

If that's true, then some contributor should threaten a copyright infringement case. But, in that case, why does the summary include the following text?

USDTV customers are being charged $30 for a service and/or files that should be freely available to anyone who has a DB2010 in their possession.

I mean, the GPL has no requirement for binary distribution...

Re:Possibility of GPL Validation (1)

burnin1965 (535071) | more than 7 years ago | (#18509103)

proponents of proprietary OSes would then immediately cite the case as an example of the "dangers" of using Linux

Actually this is already available [gpl-violations.org] as an arguement for proprietary vendors but I suppose they don't use it because they persue copyright violoations agressively to the point where customers move to open source solutions. [com.com]

Wallace vs. FSF (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18509173)

You should check out the Wallace vs. FSF case. It basically said that Wallace was out to lunch, although I guess he was challenging it on anti-trust grounds.

Everyone else, even Linksys, has folded when brought up on GPL violations for good reason--they think they'd lose in court.

How to Avoid the GPL Violation (1)

ubuwalker31 (1009137) | more than 7 years ago | (#18509509)

1) Upload a .torrent of the source code to a tracker and provide a link (Cost: ~$0, upload it once from work, host at home)
2) Put a copy on your server (Cost: Variable and potentially expensive)
3) Provide an offer w/the GPL to provide the source code on CD for the cost it would take you to have a secretary burn a CD and mail it via FedEx/UPS, plus a small handling fee. (Charge $25 - Profit!)

Re:How to Avoid the GPL Violation (1)

apathy maybe (922212) | more than 7 years ago | (#18509701)

Hand out the source code with every binary you hand out and not worry? I mean you can compress it and put it on the same fucking CD!

That way you don't have to worry about keeping it for three years, you don't have to worry about extra costs, and you don't have to worry about anything.

Just compress (using zip or gzip or bzip) and burn.

Ask them nicely, sue them if they don't comply (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18508377)

It's plain copyright infringement. They wouldn't get away with it if they infringed on Microsoft's copyright. There's no reason to let them get away with it if they infringe on the copyright of thousands of Linux contributors.

I'm not sure this is the case. (5, Insightful)

raehl (609729) | more than 7 years ago | (#18508853)

Where is the act of infringment?

The GPL requires that IF you distribute code, you also have to distribute source code, and the person you give that code to can then also redistribute it under the same terms.

But, if I give you code, and you change it, and then you don't give it to anyone, guess what, you don't have to give the source code out at all.

So, in this case, who owns the receivers? If the cable company owned the receivers, and were just leasing them to the customers, I don't see that there's any infringement taking place. They're not distributing the software (it's on their hardware), so they're not obligated to distribute the source either.

Now, if they SOLD the boxes to the end consumer, then they'd be obligated to distribute the source, but is that the case here? Or did people just end up with abandoned receivers when the cable company went out of business?

Re:I'm not sure this is the case. (1)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 7 years ago | (#18509051)

It's an interesting argument.. but that's all it is. There's no legal precedent for what you're suggesting.

Re:I'm not sure this is the case. (2, Interesting)

dgatwood (11270) | more than 7 years ago | (#18509145)

It's the same legal precedent that makes it illegal to hack your rented cable box. It's considered trespassing. If you rent a cable box, you do not have the right to open it up or modify it in any way. As the owner, they have the right to specify what can and cannot be done with their property. Therefore, they are under no legal obligation to aid and abet any action by their customers that would be in violation of their rights as the owners of the property. Indeed, by assisting you in doing so, they would be tacitly agreeing to allow the owners of their cable box to make modifications to those boxes, including those that could harm the box. As such, they cannot realistically be expected to do so.

It would be the same as a person renting a house demanding that the landlord help him remove an exterior wall. The law says that by transferring a piece of property, you transfer all rights to modify the property as the new owner sees fit. However, when renting it, you retain the right to maintain the value of that property, up to and including preventing the unauthorized modification thereof. Modifying a cable box could decrease its value to the owner (if the person doing the upgrade screws something up), and thus, they are well within their rights to not allow you to do so.

Re:I'm not sure this is the case. (1)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 7 years ago | (#18509221)

Sigh. A vague analogy does not a legal precedent make.

Think of it this way, if it had been Windows CE on that box, would you expect the company to be held to that license? Yeah, that's what I figured.

Re:I'm not sure this is the case. (1)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | more than 7 years ago | (#18509401)

And what this guy just got done explaining was why it might not apply -- does the license require source code if you do not sell the product, but merely lease it?

Re:I'm not sure this is the case. (1)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 7 years ago | (#18509465)

Does anyone sell software? Or do they just LICENSE it. Yeah, it's really not that complicated.

Re:I'm not sure this is the case. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18509505)

What you said, and *people bought the receivers*. Case closed.

Re:I'm not sure this is the case. (1)

cmburns69 (169686) | more than 7 years ago | (#18509175)

I stopped subscribing a long time ago, but when I purchased my box when I signed up.

Re:I'm not sure this is the case. (1)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | more than 7 years ago | (#18509441)

Most nerds do have to purchase their boxes.

Wait for it...ah, nevermind.

Re:I'm not sure this is the case. (2, Insightful)

squiggleslash (241428) | more than 7 years ago | (#18509189)

My gut feeling says no, this wouldn't suffice. The receiver maker needs a license to put the software on the receivers, whether they intend to sell them or lease them, much as they'd need a license if they wanted to put a copy of The Matrix on every receiver and sell them or lease them. "Fair use", the usual out that allows us to talk about the GPL not applying to private modifications, does not apply in this case, fair use isn't as liberal as people here tend to think it is.

The fact that the software has been distributed, whether leased or sold, means it needed agreement to a license. The user was given (whether on the basis of a lease or not) the physical software. They, therefore, under the terms of the GPL, should have been offered the source code. I would be enormously surprised if that isn't the case.

Re:I'm not sure this is the case. (1)

dmyurych (561831) | more than 7 years ago | (#18509411)

Mod parent down. Distributing software along with hardware, even if you are only licensing or renting the hardware, is still distributing software. Otherwise everyone could get around the GPL--make the source available restriction, by saying: "We're not distributing Linux we're just renting a hard drive to our customers that has Linux on it". On the other hand, I believe charging a fair price for the distribution media is allowable under the GPL. Is $30 a fair price. I don't believe they would have to make it widely available either, so they can restrict it to those customers who actually have that particular set-top box.

Re:I'm not sure this is the case. (2, Interesting)

MoralHazard (447833) | more than 7 years ago | (#18509719)

So, in this case, who owns the receivers? If the cable company owned the receivers, and were just leasing them to the customers, I don't see that there's any infringement taking place. They're not distributing the software (it's on their hardware), so they're not obligated to distribute the source either.

You make a very tricky argument, here, about exactly what defines "distribution". I believe (correct me if I'm wrong) that you're just drawing a distinction between distribution on machines being loaned/leased to the end user, versus distribution on machines where the end user actually buys the hardware. It seems to me, on face, that both are literally examples of "distribution". But the GPL (and a court, obviously) may support your distinction--the literal meaning might not be the whole story. The text of the GPLv2 (which I just reviewed on the FSF site) doesn't go into detail on this point.

However, I do believe that you are wrong, specifically because of the nature of how copyright law applies to the acts in question. I'm not sure if my position rests entirely on the literal definition of distribution, though. Let me see if I can construct an argument around this, and you can tell me whether it holds any water.

1) Consider the hardware boxes to be just another piece of media. Sure, they're functional in their own right, but the have internal flash or memory that carries GPL-governed binary code. In this sense, it seems like the sames rules should apply that govern other forms of media carrying GPL code, such as Linux-based live CDs.

2) Hypothetically, I could create a binary-only live CD (most of them are, anyway) and hand out copies of it to people. However, let's pretend that I stipulate to everybody receiving a CD that they don't actually own the CDs. I'm not giving them away, I'm just loaning or leasing those physical CDs. Maybe we write out a contract--you accept the CD as a loaner from me, but you're required to return it if I ask or at some designated future time.

3) It would seem that the contents of the hypothetical loaner CDs are clearly still covered by the GPL, in full effect. Although I could demand the physical CD-ROM back from a user, I couldn't also try to forbid them from making a copy and saving it, or giving it away to other people. In fact, even if we wrote out a special contract to that effect, it would violate the GPL to impose such conditions on them, which would in turn terminate MY rights to re-distribute GPL code in the first place. I couldn't prevent my users from exercising their GPL-given rights without losing my own license over that code.

4) The requirement that I pass on the right to copy and re-distribute GPL software is only one of the tenets of the license. Another tenet is that I must provide source code, upon request, when I distribute binaries. So in addition to #3, above, I would also be forced to provide the source code for my binary live CD when any of my users asked for it. And furthermore, I would be required to do so at a reasonable cost. If I refuse, or if I try to impose conditions on my users, I lose my own original right to give them the copies in the first place.

5) Given that the hardware boxes the cable company is handing to its end-users contain binaries of GPL code, it would therefore seem that the users maintain their rights under the GPL to demand the source code from the cable company at a reasonable cost. Unless the cable company meets this requirement, they have no right to distribute the GPL code along with their hardware.

So... Does that add up? I mean, I would contrast this against the case where the cable company installs edge routers in local neighborhoods that run Linux--those routers being sited in company offices and passing customer traffic as opposed to being given to customers to operate in their own homes. In that case, it would seem as if they were NOT distributing the software, since they maintain direct control over it, and therefore the customers would have no rights under the GPL to demand the source.

But this is a complex issue... If you code web applications in such a way that your app is GPL-derived, are you required to provide source to anybody who vists your site and uses your app? Does it make a difference whether the app is server-side (ruby on rails, or a CGI script) and running on YOUR hardware, or client-side (javascript, let's say, or flash) and running on the user's computer, however transiently it my actually reside there?

More importantly, perhaps... Are the judges and lawyers who eventually decide and argue these matters going to be aware of these extremely fine technical distinctions? Will they decide on the nature of what is actually, physically happening, or will they try to take a more practical and less precise approach? Lots of uncertainty, here, as far as I see it.

Re:I'm not sure this is the case. (1)

Ansoni-San (955052) | more than 7 years ago | (#18509757)

Even if they weren't sold but leased, the fact that they are now abandoning them would count as distributing. Transferring ownership from themselves to their customers/former-customers is pretty much distribution. Now, if they went around and forced all their customers to update their firmware (which they would probably have to do for free to get everyone to agree), then they'd be in the clear. In my opinion, they're quite clearly violating the GPL even if the boxes were originally leased. I'll spare you the analogies.

Re:Ask them nicely, sue them if they don't comply (2, Insightful)

Chandon Seldon (43083) | more than 7 years ago | (#18508931)

This isn't accurate. I'm not a lawyer, but I have actually read the GPL and payed attention to legal discussions related to the GPL.

First, only the copyright holder can sue for copyright infringement. Unless that's you, you have no standing for a copyright infringement claim. There are some other marginal ins you might have, but they don't really apply to this case.

Second, they aren't obviously violating the GPL. The GPL says they need to offer source code to anyone with binaries for the cost of distribution. A USB key + shipping + handling is $30. You could argue about what a reasonable "handling" charge is, but they're not obviously in the wrong.

In the end, this isn't an argument over software freedom or the GPL. It's an argument over $20. And, frankly, $20 doesn't matter that much.

Re:Ask them nicely, sue them if they don't comply (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18509063)

Obviously only the copyright holders could sue, but since busybox is usually in these firmware images and the main author of busybox does enforce his copyright, you can count on there being someone who can sue and is willing to sue if necessary. If busybox is not in there, I would expect that someone else who's involved with the Linux kernel is ready to go after them.

The USB key is the method to update the firmware update on these devices. It contains the binary firmware in a format that the box recognizes when it is powered on with such a stick in its USB port. If the USB key contained the firmware source code, there would be no argument because then someone would have made the source available online by now.

So..... (1)

LordPhantom (763327) | more than 7 years ago | (#18508383)

Correct me if I'm wrong....but isn't this less of a license issue and more of an issue of a company having financial difficulties?

Re:So..... (3, Informative)

MrWGW (964175) | more than 7 years ago | (#18508429)

Specifically its an issue of a service provider exiting a business, after having distributed Linux to people, and the new service providers failing to provide the source code as required by the GPL.

Re:So..... (1)

spun (1352) | more than 7 years ago | (#18508459)

A little of column A, a little of column B, at least by my reading. They were called out on the lack of source over a year ago, claimed they were having technical difficulties and would release the source post-haste. They never did. Now, they were probably in some financial trouble even then, but how hard is it to tar up a source tree and throw it on the web?

Darfur? (-1, Offtopic)

Breakfast Pants (323698) | more than 7 years ago | (#18508431)

Forget Darfur--the GPL has been violated and people can't record TV!

Re:Darfur? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18508509)

The media and the government are lulling the people with propagandist bogeymen such as foreign genocide, terrorism, and global warming to make us forget about the real problems at home caused by their ineptitude! Problems like not being allowed to copy and distribute whatever the hell you want.

No one not in Darfur gives a shit about it. (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18508537)

I'm tired of the people who pretend to care. They don't. What do they want the US to do, exterminate those persecuting those indiginous to Darfur, raze the mud huts, and corregated roofed shacks of the Sudanese capital? No? Well too bad, that's what'd it take. No everyone can live together, particularly where there aren't enough resources, especially water. Sometimes someone's got to go, and if it's not worth killing people for in the eyes of a disinterested 3rd party, well the interested parties are going to do what seems most convienient.

Oh noes Bradgelina is getting teh sads, poor people are dying. Their plan: Make a speech, adopt a kid, wait for magic. Well, that's what Bush pretty much uses as his business plan to. No magic is coming, assholes. So unless you've got something, anything, worthwhile to add, shut the fuck up.

Re:Darfur? (-1, Troll)

rs79 (71822) | more than 7 years ago | (#18508699)

No shit. This is all over $30?

*cough*bunch of whiners*cough*

What about other licenses? (1)

John.P.Jones (601028) | more than 7 years ago | (#18508453)

I don't know anything about this company but I have a general GPL question that this may serve as a good example of...

What if they had licensed lots of other code and disobeyed the GPL by merging from them both? They couldn't release the code and they couldn't not release the code either. I suppose that the other license (the restrictive one) would win out. They could be sued for breaking the GPL but the result of the lawsuit couldn't be opening the code so what would you get from a defunct company?

You can't be forced to open source your code. (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18508527)

The GPL is voluntary. You do not have to accept the license. However, if you don't or can't accept the license, you can't distribute the code. If you distribute the code even though you have not accepted the license or don't comply with its terms, you're committing copyright infringement, which is punishable by a bazillion dollars per illicit copy. Alternatively you can settle with the copyright owners who most likely want you to open the code and call it a day. But if you don't want to or can't open the source, you're free to accept a copyright infringement verdict.

Re:You can't be forced to open source your code. (1)

dch24 (904899) | more than 7 years ago | (#18509491)

Exactly right. The licensed code on the set top box is removed when you re-flash the firmware using the Free-To-Air update on the USB key.

What if they had licensed lots of other code and disobeyed the GPL by merging from them both?
The only for-sure GPL violation was the Linux kernel, although I'm fairly certain they have GNU bash in the firmware as well. The programs which are not open source -- well, they won't have to release source for those. But they must release the code for the kernel and any included GNU utilities.

Re:You can't be forced to open source your code. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18509681)

is removed when you re-flash the firmware using the Free-To-Air update

Of course then it is replaced with yet another firmware that contains GPL software, which is just as illegal without either the source or an offer to supply the source (and in this case the firmware is distributed by companies that aren't bankrupt, so there's someone who can actually be sued if necessary.)

Re:What about other licenses? (1)

qwp (694253) | more than 7 years ago | (#18508557)

Most projects that do this keep a management system
on both of the branches of the code.

This way when they publish their GPD'ed code they just publish the entire code minus the
3rd party functions and sections.
The way I've run into it is they just have the third party stuff kept seperate from the OSS
content. That way you can still mainly work with the OSS stuff with out the copywritten stuff.
(just means you have broken functions all over the place)

Just my two cents..
and i hate computers.

Re:What about other licenses? (1)

dgatwood (11270) | more than 7 years ago | (#18509229)

That's not legal. If the GPLed components cannot function correctly (with the same functionality) without the non-GPLed components, the entire piece of software must be released under the GPL. That's pretty clear from the licensing terms.

Re:What about other licenses? (5, Informative)

AJWM (19027) | more than 7 years ago | (#18508599)

They couldn't release the code and they couldn't not release the code either.

The solution to that is to stop distributing anything. If you end up with a warehouse full of settop boxes you can't legally (because of copyright) distribute/sell, that's your tough luck for not doing due diligence on your business plan.

Same goes for any successors in interest to the defunct company.

Re:What about other licenses? (1)

billcopc (196330) | more than 7 years ago | (#18508751)

What happens is they release the product anyway because GPL license holders are not likely to sue, and even if they do, the cost will be minimal. How do you value damages on something you give away for free ? The GPL is difficult to enforce for individuals, only if someone like IBM or Sun could bring a legitimite business case with tangible losses and penalties could the GPL really have any weight.

It's nice when companies respect and honor the GPL, but if they don't, it's not like the average 12 year old Debian hacker is going to have resources and desire to sue.

Re:What about other licenses? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18508981)

Except that copyright infringement is also enforceable as a criminal offense, and that "damages" is not limited to losses by the author. Any money collected for distribution of the copyrighted code is the author's money unless there's a license that allows the distributing party to distribute it some other way. That's right -- it's the copyright holder's code, and if you make money by violating his or her property rights, the money you earned doing it is properly the copyright holder's money.

IANAL, but if someone steals my code, these two fronts are exactly where I'd make my case.

Ask the MAFIAA (1)

Belial6 (794905) | more than 7 years ago | (#18509207)

"How do you value damages on something you give away for free ?"

As the MAFIAA.

Re:What about other licenses? (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 7 years ago | (#18509653)

How do you value damages on something you give away for free ?

It is only given away for free under the conditions of the GPL. The copyright owner might have been willing to give a non-GPL license in return of some money, thus usage of the code in violation of the GPL may have given the author as much damage as the developer would have charged for a commercial license.

But even if the copyright owner would not have been willing (or able, if he used third-party GPL code himself) to do that, it doesn't mean the author doesn't have monetary damage. You don't distribute modified GPLed code for free: You have to pay for the distribution rights in the form of source code of your modifications. Therefore IMHO the monetary damage is in the value of the source code you did not get, but would have gotten if the distributor had complied with the license.

However IANAL, nor do I play one on TV.

W H A T ? (0)

XO (250276) | more than 7 years ago | (#18508455)

Just because you have a right to the source, how does this entitle you to a right to use a particular service for free?

Re:W H A T ? (2, Insightful)

guspasho (941623) | more than 7 years ago | (#18508579)

It doesn't. Unfortunately for your question, no one has suggested that it should.

Re:W H A T ? (1)

Romancer (19668) | more than 7 years ago | (#18508787)

Because they just want to use their purchased hardware to get FTA (Free to Air) shows. You know, Free as in Free. RTFA! or even the summary!

And since the operating code on the system is protected under the GPL, then they should be able to get the source. The company made money off software that they did not themselves create in whole. They took the communities efforts and are now charging the public to use that code. This is why the violation of GPL software is a problem.

They cannot NOT sue. (1)

313373_bot (766001) | more than 7 years ago | (#18508467)

"Copyright laws"? That's preposterous - if the former company did violate the GPL, it must be punished. But concerning the keys mentioned, I think it falls in a gray area: could they be forced to reveal, say, some encryption key or other sensitive information even if it is not directly related to said GPL violation, but on the other hand necessary to prove something in court?

Gouged? (4, Informative)

ClamIAm (926466) | more than 7 years ago | (#18508501)

Perhaps the submitter has never read the GPL, but the license does, in fact, allow you to charge money when people request copies of the code. In fact, for a while Stallman made a living selling copies of Emacs by mail-order; there are plenty of sites that sell CDs of Linux distributions as well.

Re:Gouged? (3, Informative)

UbuntuDupe (970646) | more than 7 years ago | (#18508539)

Yes, but:

1) The code must be *somewhere* freely available. Profiting off people's ignorance of where to get it for free, is fine. For example, selling Firefox in a regular software box at Best Buy for $35 + sales tax would be within the GPL, as long as you can download it somewhere for free.

2) If you're charging for the source code you have to provide, it has to be somewhere close to distribution costs.

Re:Gouged? (4, Insightful)

RealSurreal (620564) | more than 7 years ago | (#18508647)

Close but no cigar. 1) There's no requirement to make the source freely available anywhere. You can release software under the GPL and charge whatever you like for a copy. The requirement is that whoever buys a copy from you with a GPL license receives the rights to redistribute it under a GPL license - which means they can then give it away for free (as long as the recipient is bound by the GPL too) 2) Nope. http://www.gnu.org/licenses/gpl-faq.html#DoesTheGP LAllowDownloadFee [gnu.org] Oh and Firefox is distributed under the Mozilla Public License not the GPL.

Re:Gouged? (2, Insightful)

jrockway (229604) | more than 7 years ago | (#18508727)

> Oh and Firefox is distributed under the Mozilla Public License not the GPL.

That's incorrect. Firefox is tri-licensed -- LGPL, GPL, and MPL. You get to pick which one you want.

Re:Gouged? (3, Informative)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 7 years ago | (#18508833)

Apparently you didn't read the link you made, and neither did anyone else. Try actually reading the following:

[...] "You can charge any fee you wish for distributing a copy of the program. If you distribute binaries by download, you must provide "equivalent access" to download the source--therefore, the fee to download source may not be greater than the fee to download the binary."

IF you distribute binaries by download, which they did not, you may charge a fee as much as the fee to download the binary.

Since the binaries were distributed physically, with the product, or physically again, when the people come to your house to do the upgrade, you may not charge more than a nominal amount to cover copying for the source code.

Nice try, though.

Re:Gouged? (1)

dgatwood (11270) | more than 7 years ago | (#18509369)

The GPL does not say "a nominal amount". It says "the cost of distribution". There's a difference. "A nominal amount" is vague. "The cost of distribution" is very well defined. If the cost of that USB key plus the cost for somebody to copy the data to it plus the cost of shipping comes out to $30 or whatever, then that's well within the bounds of even a strict interpretation of the GPL. However, it is also within the rights of anyone who pays for that $30 key to make it available to anyone else at no charge.

The dirty part is this: if company A is collapsing and transferred the rights to company B, then company B never distributed the binaries. As such, company B is not obligated to meet even the "cost of distribution" requirements. Thus, the beef is with company A, and if they go under, there's nobody to sue. As much as we'd like the GPL to protect against companies creating products that can't be fixed or upgraded by end users, that is only true if users and copyright owners are vigilant and take immediate action to compel the release of source code in a timely manner.

Indeed, this is why I think the U.S. needs a source code escrow law in which any publicly distributed software product must have a copy of its source code placed in escrow that can be released upon a court order in cases of insolvency.

Re:Gouged? (1)

fishbowl (7759) | more than 7 years ago | (#18509617)

>"The cost of distribution" is very well defined.

At least it's "definable."

Judge: And how much did it cost you to distribute that?
Defendant: We do not have a record of that, your honor.
Judge: Agreed. $0.

Re:Gouged? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18508923)

If you have distributed a binary (you can charge what you want) you must distribute the source at cost.

If you have never distributed a binary you can charge whatever you want for the source.

That's what the GPL says.

Re:Gouged? (1)

Danse (1026) | more than 7 years ago | (#18508955)

1) There's no requirement to make the source freely available anywhere. You can release software under the GPL and charge whatever you like for a copy. The requirement is that whoever buys a copy from you with a GPL license receives the rights to redistribute it under a GPL license - which means they can then give it away for free (as long as the recipient is bound by the GPL too)

Ok, this isn't clear to me from reading the FAQ. The GPL states that they must provide equivalent access [gnu.org] to the source that they provide for the binaries. The binaries were distributed with the machines, but the customer wasn't charged any specific fee for the distribution of those binaries, and therefore shouldn't be charged any fee for distribution of the source. Should that be interpreted some other way?

Re:Gouged? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18508685)

as long as you can download it somewhere for free.

Read the license again. Carefully. There is no such requirement. You can't restrict what people do with the source that they receive from you, but you yourself do not have to provide a download option.

In this case however, the USB key that people have to pay for does not contain the source. The source is not being offered at all, not even at the "cost of physically performing source distribution".

Re:Gouged? (1)

Chandon Seldon (43083) | more than 7 years ago | (#18508691)

The code must be *somewhere* freely available.

Absolutely false. The GPL source code obligation can be met by providing an offer to deliver source code on physical media, and the distributor is allowed to charge reasonable distribution costs.

If you're charging for the source code you have to provide, it has to be somewhere close to distribution costs.

Sure. A USB key costs $15 and shipping costs $6. If you challenge them, they'll claim that a USB key costs "over $20". In the end, the point's really not worth arguing - they're gouging a bit, but not in a way that seriously restricts any user's freedoms under the GPL. Hell, it wouldn't be completely unreasonable to argue a $9 handling cost.

This might, technically, be a GPL violation because the price for the redistribution of source code is a little high - but it's definitely not a serious violation.

Re:Gouged? (1)

AvitarX (172628) | more than 7 years ago | (#18508887)

Is the source on the key?

Re:Gouged? (2, Informative)

Romancer (19668) | more than 7 years ago | (#18508941)

From the article: "Cable Communications is coming to subscribers' houses and updating the boxes, but not leaving a USB key" that's a problem right there as they are not getting any copies of the code.

and second: "ProServ is selling USB keys." are they selling the key with the code on it, or are they selling just a USB drive that stores a key that has been created by the code. As in a compiled file? If it's just a standard USB key, then it only has a file on it that gets verified. not the code or utility to distribute keys.

If they gave one person the code, then people would be able to generate keys from that code and copy them to USB devices at will and there would be no discussion about this issue. that's how most GPL code becomes: "free to download somewhere" in peoples minds. it's not stated in the actual GPL but it becomes that way since the people that get a copy of the code usually put it up somewhere for others to just download. Instead of buying a CD or other physical copy, that can be charged for.

It's not really the price that is at issue here, it's about the lack of the code being distributed at all.

Re:Gouged? (1)

UbuntuDupe (970646) | more than 7 years ago | (#18509285)

Absolutely false. The GPL source code obligation can be met by providing an offer to deliver source code on physical media, and the distributor is allowed to charge reasonable distribution costs.

Right, like I clarified in 2). I'm sorry, I should have said "must be somewhere available at roughly distribution costs", but I was trying to be succinct, and the point I was making in 1) was just about how yes you can charge, and give a conceivable example.

Re:Gouged? (1)

ivan256 (17499) | more than 7 years ago | (#18508739)

The code must be *somewhere* freely available.


Can you quote us the line of the GPL which specifies that?

(No, you can't, because it doesn't exist.)

Besides, even if they gave you the code for free, it doesn't mean that they aren't running some non-GPLed code to lock down the box. Thus having the GPLed code wouldn't negate their ability to charge you to unlock the system.

Re:Gouged? (1)

ArsonSmith (13997) | more than 7 years ago | (#18509043)

I don't dissagree with you, but here is the relevent section of the GPL and they seem to be well within their rights:

1. You may copy and distribute verbatim copies of the Program's source code as you receive it, in any medium, provided that you conspicuously and appropriately publish on each copy an appropriate copyright notice and disclaimer of warranty; keep intact all the notices that refer to this License and to the absence of any warranty; and give any other recipients of the Program a copy of this License along with the Program.

You may charge a fee for the physical act of transferring a copy, and you may at your option offer warranty protection in exchange for a fee.

Re:Gouged? (1)

pavon (30274) | more than 7 years ago | (#18508841)

1) The code must be *somewhere* freely available. Profiting off people's ignorance of where to get it for free, is fine. For example, selling Firefox in a regular software box at Best Buy for $35 + sales tax would be within the GPL, as long as you can download it somewhere for free.
No it doesn't. It is perfectly legitimate for someone to distribute source by mail order only, as long as the price is reasonable as you mentioned. You could make a modified version of firefox, say iceweasel, and sell it at for $2000, without making the source availiable to anyone except your customers, and then only if they paid for shipping and handling and a small fee. Of course, you cannot prevent someone from redistributing the source for free once they get it from you, but you are only required to make it available to the people that you distributed the binaries to, at reasonable price.

Re:Gouged? (1)

GryMor (88799) | more than 7 years ago | (#18509321)

This is incorrect and insufficient, you can not restrict it to 'your customers'

3. You may copy and distribute the Program (or a work based on it,
under Section 2) in object code or executable form under the terms of
Sections 1 and 2 above provided that you also do one of the following:

        a) Accompany it with the complete corresponding machine-readable
        source code, which must be distributed under the terms of Sections
        1 and 2 above on a medium customarily used for software interchange; or,

        b) Accompany it with a written offer, valid for at least three
        years, to give any third party, for a charge no more than your
        cost of physically performing source distribution, a complete
        machine-readable copy of the corresponding source code, to be
        distributed under the terms of Sections 1 and 2 above on a medium
        customarily used for software interchange; or,

        c) Accompany it with the information you received as to the offer
        to distribute corresponding source code. (This alternative is
        allowed only for noncommercial distribution and only if you
        received the program in object code or executable form with such
        an offer, in accord with Subsection b above.)


They can't use option, c) as they are a commercial distribution, they haven't done a) at this time. So they better bloody well have done b), which means the offer can be used by anyone and is transferrable (and for that matter, duplicatable). Additionally, a USB stick and a courrier is NOT a medium customarily used for software distribution.

Re:Gouged? (1)

drdanny_orig (585847) | more than 7 years ago | (#18508907)

I'm amazed to be reading stuff like tha parent post on /. Just amazed.

Re:Gouged? (1)

ArsonSmith (13997) | more than 7 years ago | (#18509075)


1. You may copy and distribute verbatim copies of the Program's source code as you receive it, in any medium, provided that you conspicuously and appropriately publish on each copy an appropriate copyright notice and disclaimer of warranty; keep intact all the notices that refer to this License and to the absence of any warranty; and give any other recipients of the Program a copy of this License along with the Program.

You may charge a fee for the physical act of transferring a copy, and you may at your option offer warranty protection in exchange for a fee.


and

3. You may copy and distribute the Program (or a work based on it, under Section 2) in object code or executable form under the terms of Sections 1 and 2 above provided that you also do one of the following:

        a) Accompany it with the complete corresponding machine-readable source code, which must be distributed under the terms of Sections 1 and 2 above on a medium customarily used for software interchange; or,
        b) Accompany it with a written offer, valid for at least three years, to give any third party, for a charge no more than your cost of physically performing source distribution, a complete machine-readable copy of the corresponding source code, to be distributed under the terms of Sections 1 and 2 above on a medium customarily used for software interchange; or,
        c) Accompany it with the information you received as to the offer to distribute corresponding source code. (This alternative is allowed only for noncommercial distribution and only if you received the program in object code or executable form with such an offer, in accord with Subsection b above.)

They are well within their rights to charge for the code what ever it costs.

Who cares? (-1, Offtopic)

Grishnakh (216268) | more than 7 years ago | (#18508523)

Honestly, why would anyone pay $100 a month or so just to watch TV, when there's nothing on but crap? All the TV I need comes in on rabbit airs (in full HDTV glory, thank you--PBS is the shining star for excellent HD programming). For all other video entertainment, Netflix is a mere $15/month.

Re:Who cares? (2, Insightful)

geekoid (135745) | more than 7 years ago | (#18508737)

Many people pay over 100 bucks a month on TV. There are people that have satallite AND cable.

Seemsd like a waste to me, but a lot of people do it.

Re:Who cares? (1)

Grishnakh (216268) | more than 7 years ago | (#18508983)

Satellite and cable? "a waste" is an understatement. Sorry, I just don't feel sorry for anyone like this who's getting ripped off in this deal. That would be like a CEO getting ripped off at his Hummer dealership: cry me a river. Or better yet, anyone getting ripped off when they turned in their leased car and have to pay thousands because of normal wear and tear. If you're dumb enough to lease a car, I'm not going to feel sorry for you when it bites you in the ass.

It's too bad USDTV went under... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18508571)

...but (and I know this isn't the same thing) I bought a 30-something inch tube TV at Wal-Mart for ~$200 that displays OTA HDTV (ATSC) channels crisp and clear, and the ones broadcast on Comcast cable WITHOUT the digital package. It's called an "ilo SDTV", the "sdtv" being some bastardization of HDTV that means "ATSC tuner with a plain old tube that displays 600 lines per second instead of 500". Not a bad TV though.

Re:It's too bad USDTV went under... (3, Informative)

ReverendLoki (663861) | more than 7 years ago | (#18508763)

It's called an "ilo SDTV", the "sdtv" being some bastardization of HDTV that means "ATSC tuner with a plain old tube that displays 600 lines per second instead of 500"

Actually, it means "Standard-Definition Television", which is just the plain-old 480i you've always been getting over the air. It's just given a shiny new acronym so the local electronics store can still sell them alongside all them fancy HDTVs and such.

Ho ho ho (1)

Mike1024 (184871) | more than 7 years ago | (#18508615)

This article is clearly spam for that proserv link in the writeup.

Don't editors check out the links before stories get posted? Oh, wait, this is slashdot, of course they don't.

Free as in beer (0, Flamebait)

Joebert (946227) | more than 7 years ago | (#18508625)

Damn hippies.

Re:Free as in beer (1)

Joebert (946227) | more than 7 years ago | (#18509157)

Free as in beer
(Score:0, Flamebait)
by Joebert (946227) on Tuesday March 27, @06:23PM (#18508625)
Damn hippies.

Damn hippy moderators.

Not necessarily GPL issue (1)

DoomfrogBW (1010579) | more than 7 years ago | (#18508769)

Basically what the article is describing is a USB dongle, similar to a Hasp. This is very common in the commerical world where you want to turn on/off features. I don't see why this company should be required to turn-over code nor without charging.

Re:Not necessarily GPL issue (1)

pla (258480) | more than 7 years ago | (#18509057)

I don't see why this company should be required to turn-over code nor without charging.

Fine, they don't have to turn over the dongle-code.

They can turn over the box firmware so users can recompile it not to check for the dongle.

Additionally, depending on what this dongle contains, they may have no right to disallow copying them and giving out copies for free (or even for-profit in direct competition with the current sellers).

I'll agree that something doesn't sound right here, but it doesn't involve copyright violation by the end-users.

The GPL is irrelevant to its usability for OTA (3, Interesting)

Edward Kmett (123105) | more than 7 years ago | (#18508805)

Ok. I'm as much of an open source advocate as anyone, but I'm not sure I see what all of the hubbub is about or believe the proposition that this upgrade should be free.

Company makes a box that happens to run linux as the base OS. They should therefore redistribute any changes they make to the GPL'ed code they run. That I get.

What I don't see is how the GPL being involved in some of the software on the firmware entitles the people who bought the hardware to anything involving software that they used for the TV tuner portion of the box.

In one of the links they mention that they used the following bits of GPL'ed software:

      Linux kernel version 2.4.18
      glibc version 2.2.4
      libpthread version 0.9
      busybox version 0.60.0
      GNU tar 1.13.19
      gzip version 1.3

None of those, with the possible exception of the kernel would they have needed to modify to do what they were doing.

They went out of business, and they let people who were former subcontractors give away/sell the information needed to update the system so the end user can continue to use the hardware in some fashion.

I just don't see the relevance of the fact that some of the software is GPL'ed to the discussion at hand. You could argue that they need to make available a disk with the code for the GPL'ed stuff that they ran, but they are out of business, so good luck with getting them to honor that.

However, what is at stake is the ability to use their box to receive OTA signals. None of those packages deal with that. You can make a case that since they closed down they might want to try to give away their service to soften the blow, but the GPL issue is unrelated.

If I ran a computer company and sold computers preloaded with Linux that happened to come with some fancy proprietary biometric thumb scanner and I went out of business, I wouldn't spontaneously owe every one the source for some user-space application that controlled the thumbscanner.

If they modified the kernel, then sure the kernel mods are probably owed to the community. I'll bet that they aren't sufficient to perform all of the box's functions unaided however.

Without the service provided by this third party you are in possession of your very own Linux box running on funny hardware. The joke is on you. Good luck getting your money back.

Not sure, but.. (4, Informative)

Jim Hall (2985) | more than 7 years ago | (#18508825)

Looking at the links provided in TFA, it's hard to find the real violation here. For example, the link to HiSense [elinux.org] quotes an email (March 2006) from the technical lead at USDTV, responding to a user request for copies of the source per the GNU GPL. He states that he would be happy to put up the files for download via a (web?) server, but they were moving offices and didn't have a box to use. Lame, but looks to be in good faith. Until they could put up a server, the technical lead listed the (unmodified?) software components covered by the GNU GPL:

  • Linux kernel version 2.4.18
  • glibc version 2.2.4
  • libpthread version 0.9
  • busybox version 0.60.0
  • GNU tar 1.13.19
  • gzip version 1.3

There is then a mention on the site (not part of the email) that the company has since hit financial problems, possibly implying they are going out of business. In fact, USDTV did go under. Technically, a violation of the GNU GPL for not providing the source on demand, but would be hard to bring to court. Especially since USDTV is out of business now. :-P

Under the GNU GPL, a developer who modifies or distributes code under the GNU GPL is required [fsf.org] to redistribute the source code, "for a charge no more than your cost of physically performing source distribution". However, a program that is separate from the GNU GPL code (for example, a program that runs on top of the Linux kernel) is not bound by the GNU GPL. So they company isn't bound by anything to release code or binaries to their subscriber box software. And in any case, $30 could be a reasonable fee for physical distribution, since they are sending a field rep to your home - if they were distributing source code to the GNU GPL components (which doesn't appear to be the case.)

Reading through the (long!) forum, the company appears to be distributing an updated kernel and their own subscriber box software updates - from a USB "key" (I assume a USB fob or somesuch.) Forum members report they haven't been able to read the USB key on a PC. I didn't go through all 19 web pages of comments, but I didn't see anyone complaining about trying to get the source code.

So after much searching, it appears the submitted article is someone complaining they aren't getting upgraded TV software for free, and using the GNU GPL as leverage in their argument. Am I missing something???

Re:Not sure, but.. (1)

hamfactorial (857057) | more than 7 years ago | (#18509107)

So after much searching, it appears the submitted article is someone complaining they aren't getting upgraded TV software for free, and using the GNU GPL as leverage in their argument. Am I missing something???
You're entirely correct, the article is nothing more than sensationalism. It's wrapped up nicely with a big red FUD bow at the top! AKA "the usual", around here.

Re:Not sure, but.. (3, Interesting)

Andy Dodd (701) | more than 7 years ago | (#18509113)

Also, while the above components may be GPL, there are two other issues:

a) Nothing requires you to provide binaries on demand. Still, any time binaries ARE provided, source for those components must be provided, and there HAS been a violation here.

b) Just because the kernel and glibc are GPL doesn't mean that there aren't any closed-source applications. HiSense could comply with the GPL and release source code for all GPL components and anyone wanting to update their system would likely still be SOL because the update is for a closed-source application that runs on the box.

flaunting-the-GPL dept.? (2, Informative)

Simon80 (874052) | more than 7 years ago | (#18508839)

flouting the GPL! FLOUTING!

Re:flaunting-the-GPL dept.? (3, Funny)

26199 (577806) | more than 7 years ago | (#18508967)

Hey, if you've got it, flout it.

correct me if I'm wrong... (2, Insightful)

Secret Rabbit (914973) | more than 7 years ago | (#18508847)

... but isn't the key NOT source code.

I mean sure, if the firmware is GPL'd then according to the GPL we have to have access to it. But, if a key is required (as in a crypto type key) then that would NOT exactly be covered under the GPL. Thus NO violation.

Stop right there (2, Insightful)

westlake (615356) | more than 7 years ago | (#18508885)

Salt Lake City-based USDTV discontinued their service. USDTV used the Hisense DB2010 as subscriber boxes, with Linux based firmware [CC]. USDTV should have released the source and binaries as required by the GPL, in order for customers to create a USB key to convert their DB2010s to FTA HDTV boxes. Instead, they chose to hand the keys to former USDTV subcontractors. Cable Communications [CC] is coming to subscribers' houses and updating the boxes, but not leaving a USB key. ProServ [CC] is selling USB keys. But 'Due to copyright laws you are only allowed to purchase one of these keys if you have proof of being a current or previous subscriber to USDTV.

First question that comes to mind:

How many subscribers would be able to flash the firmware without bricking their box even if they had the source code and binaries?

[it happens, sometimes, even to the geek who is sure he knows what he is doing]

Second question:

Where in the contract does it say that these set top boxes are user-serviceable? If they are not, then the code becomes of intellectual interest only.

Third question:

What makes paying for a USB key differet from paying for a CableCard to access and unlock subscription content and services?

Re:Stop right there (1)

dch24 (904899) | more than 7 years ago | (#18509693)

I'll bite.

How many subscribers would be able to flash the firmware without bricking their box even if they had the source code and binaries? [it happens, sometimes, even to the geek who is sure he knows what he is doing]

If by some mishap you have bricked your box, connect the appropriate Flash programmer to the JTAG port on the mainboard, and reprogram the flash. Repeat as necessary until the machine boots again.

I think it's necessary to have the source code so you could test an install of MythTV, for example.

Second question:

Where in the contract does it say that these set top boxes are user-serviceable? If they are not, then the code becomes of intellectual interest only.

Many customers received their Hisense box officially just a few weeks ago, when USDTV sent out a notice that leased boxes could be kept by the subscriber. They never signed a contract limiting their rights to modify the box (now that they own it).

Also, as long as USDTV is in violation of the GPL (and they are -- see discussion above), obtaining the source code is in the interest of all who would defend GPL software, since USDTV and TiVo have demonstrated a serious loophole by which many manufacturers might try to abuse the GPL.

Third question:

What makes paying for a USB key differet from paying for a CableCard to access and unlock subscription content and services?

I agree with you. A USB key that would unlock subscription material should be paid for. But this USB key changes a Hisense box so that it will not go into "Please Activate" mode at the next power outage. Further, the key removes some of the proprietary code from the box, so that it only receives free ATSC broadcasts. The USB key does not contain source code -- but that's my point: USDTV is still in violation of the GPL.

mod uP (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18509341)

of businees and was we all know,

step one (1)

DragonTHC (208439) | more than 7 years ago | (#18509671)

contact the EFF

step two, sue everyone involved.
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