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Re: [GNU-linux-libre] Non-free file in open-ath9k-htc-firmware

From: Patrick 'P. J.' McDermott
Subject: Re: [GNU-linux-libre] Non-free file in open-ath9k-htc-firmware
Date: Fri, 14 Nov 2014 20:57:28 -0500
User-agent: Mozilla/5.0 (X11; U; Linux x86_64; en-US; rv: Gecko/20111114 Icedove/3.1.16

Hi Chris,

On 2014-10-26 23:53, Chris wrote:
> Tried to reply to the list... not sure if I was able to (I'm not
> subscribed, etc). Here is the answer to your question:

I received two copies of your message, neither of which went to the
list, so I'm sending your message and my inline reply to the list.

> For a variety of reasons I'm pretty confident this snippet is basically
> irrelevant at this point. The code has been relicensed under one of
> three separate free software licenses (for compatibility reasons).

I assume you're referring to the released firmware, a few files [1] of
which are licensed (by Leffler, Atheros, and Video54 Technologies, Inc.)
under the disjunction of a modified three-clause BSD license and GNU GPL

[1]: _ieee80211.h, ieee80211.h, if_ath_pci.c, if_ath_pci.h,
     if_athrate.h, and if_llc.h in target_firmware/wlan/

> Even if that weren't the case my reading of this is that the copyright
> notice can't be modified. It says nothing about not being able to modify
> the code. There aren't any restrictions on the code here and the GNU GPL
> license would have similar restrictions as well as any other free
> software license.

Condition 2 states that the copyright and license notice can't be

     * 2. Redistributions of source code must retain the above copyright
     *    notice, this list of conditions and the following NO
     *    ''WARRANTY'' disclaimer below (''Disclaimer''), without
     *    modification.

Condition 1 applies to the code itself, as I read it.

> As a result I don't think there should be a problem here. If there is it
> would be limited to it not having been an officially approved / endorsed
> free software software license. That doesn't (in my mind anyway) make it
> non-free. What makes something free is that it respects the four
> freedoms.

Of course, a license doesn't have to appear on FSF's license list for it
to be free.  I haven't claimed that.  I've seen a few free software
licenses that aren't on FSF's list.

> As an example if you use the GNU GPL license for instance you can't
> modify the license itself. You have to use it as is. The licenses apply
> to the code portion. My interpretation of this snippet is it doesn't
> restrict the the use, modification, or redistribution of the code
> provided the license/copyright notice remains intact.

Right, the text of the GPL (like almost all other copyright licenses)
can't be modified, at least within a package as the license for that
package.  To modify such license text would be to relicense the package,
which only the copyright holders can do.

However, the FSF does grant a license [2] to modify the GPL, so that
the copyright holders of a package can license their work under a new
license based on the GPL (with the caveat that license proliferation
should be avoided).


> The more code you review the more you'll see snippets like this as it is
> common to find copyright notices like this in code that has been
> re-licensed under free software licenses.

I have seen such relicensed code, but the new license or exception to
the old license is usually included with the code or accompanying
documentation.  Here, only this restrictive license is found in the
source file, and the NOTICE.TXT file lists this license as well.  There
is no evidence in the firmware source tree that ah_osdep.h was ever
relicensed; QCA knew about the restrictive license and explicitly
documented it.

> * I'm not a copyright expert, lawyer, etc. If your really concerned
> about it talk to someone whose familiar with the intricacies (ie lawyer,
> etc) of such a matter within the free software community.


However, I eventually found evidence [3] in FreeBSD's base repository
that the restrictive license was mistakenly applied and that the
disjunction of the modified three-clause BSD license and GNU GPL 2.0 was
supposed to be applied instead.

After three weeks of waiting in moderation, I finally got a message
about this license and the apparent mistake onto upstream's mailing list
[4] and there are a couple of bug reports about it.  So we'll see what
upstream says.

I think QCA can fix this license.


Patrick "P. J." McDermott
Lead Developer, ProteanOS

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