Embedded software

Discussion in 'NZ Computing' started by peterwn, Mar 3, 2010.

  1. peterwn

    peterwn Guest

    Many devices from motor cars to modems, routers, etc contain one or
    more processors and associated embedded software. While an end user
    may be aware of this, she or he is generally unaware of the nature of
    the software, copyright status, licences, etc.

    In a recent thread, concern was expressed as to an end user's
    responsibilities and obligations concerning such software, in
    particular if its use was governed by the General Public Licence
    (GPL).

    The most logical way to approach the inquiry is to assess the
    situation if any copyright software is used (as would apply in most
    situations). It is assumed the end user purchased the device through
    normal retail channels and could put it to work without the need to
    acknowledge any licencing regime (the normal situation). The
    implication here is that there is an appropriate copyright licence
    covering that copy of the code and its execution. This could be a
    licence implied in a contract between the device maker and a software
    contractor.

    Now assume that the code had been developed and placed in the device,
    is copyright but not licenced or in breach of a licence. An end user
    would generally be blissfully unaware of of this situation, and while
    in that happy state would not have the knowledge (or constructive
    knowledge - 'ought to know') to attract any copyright penalties.

    A copyright holder in such a case could theoretically obtain a court
    order to track down users and warn them not to use such devices in
    breach of copyright law. This occurred in a NZ Yellow Pages last year
    where a firm stripped Yellow Pages information and offered it as a CD
    database undercutting the price of the Yellow Pages product - the
    Court ordered that the defendant name the purchasers of the CD's so
    action could be taken to recover them. Distributors and retailers of
    such a product would be vulnerable to this. However there would be
    virtually nil chance of this happening to an end user for a consumer
    product since the more practical remedy would be for the award of
    damages against the maker.

    Therefore an end user can in practice purchase such a product through
    normal retail channels and use it without fear of consequences even if
    its embedded software is in breach of copyright. This would be
    regardless of the type of licence pertaining to the software.

    Now consider the particular case if the licence is the GPL. There may
    be an obligation (dependent on circumstances) where the manufacturer
    may need to disclose the source code to the end user (and anyone else
    who wants it), and if this is not done the manufacturer is in breach
    of the GPL. However the end user has not breached the GPL so is
    licenced to use the embedded GPL code in the course of using the
    device. Hence the end user faces no special risk if the software in
    the device is covered in part or whole by the GPL which the
    manufacturer has breached.

    Now, opponents of open source would like to think that there is a
    special risk if the device uses GPL code, but this is just not the
    case.

    Sorry for spoiling a good story, 'Impossible' and Max.
    peterwn, Mar 3, 2010
    #1
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  2. In message <c6b5ba65-
    >, peterwn wrote:

    > Sorry for spoiling a good story, 'Impossible' and Max.


    Cue predictable trolling responses in 3, 2, 1 ...
    Lawrence D'Oliveiro, Mar 3, 2010
    #2
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  3. peterwn

    Gordon Guest

    On 2010-03-03, peterwn <> wrote:
    >


    > Therefore an end user can in practice purchase such a product through
    > normal retail channels and use it without fear of consequences even if
    > its embedded software is in breach of copyright. This would be
    > regardless of the type of licence pertaining to the software.
    >
    > Now consider the particular case if the licence is the GPL. There may
    > be an obligation (dependent on circumstances) where the manufacturer
    > may need to disclose the source code to the end user (and anyone else
    > who wants it), and if this is not done the manufacturer is in breach
    > of the GPL.


    There is. The Courts agree that the code needs to be given to the third
    party if they request it.


    > However the end user has not breached the GPL so is
    > licenced to use the embedded GPL code in the course of using the
    > device. Hence the end user faces no special risk if the software in
    > the device is covered in part or whole by the GPL which the
    > manufacturer has breached.


    True. However note that the end user is also within their GPL rights to ask
    for the code. This has been done with the cases which have ended up in court
    about the NAS devices.

    >
    > Now, opponents of open source would like to think that there is a
    > special risk if the device uses GPL code, but this is just not the
    > case.
    >


    This risk is what exactly?

    As seen on the rear or a truck a couple of days ago. We are all born
    wealthly, but some need nore money than others.
    Gordon, Mar 4, 2010
    #3
  4. peterwn

    peterwn Guest

    On Mar 4, 6:14 pm, Gordon <> wrote:
    > On 2010-03-03, peterwn <> wrote:
    >
    >
    >
    > > Therefore an end user can in practice purchase such a product through
    > > normal retail channels and use it without fear of consequences even if
    > > its embedded software is in breach of copyright.  This would be
    > > regardless of the type of licence pertaining to the software.

    >
    > > Now consider the particular case if the licence is the GPL.  There may
    > > be an obligation (dependent on circumstances) where the manufacturer
    > > may need to disclose the source code to the end user (and anyone else
    > > who wants it), and if this is not done the manufacturer is in breach
    > > of the GPL.  

    >
    > There is. The Courts agree that the code needs to be given to the third
    > party if they request it.


    Only if GPL'd code is modified. A proprietary application is OK on a
    Linux OS, and it may be compiled with a GPL'd compiler and be linked
    with LGPL (Lesser GPL) library routines. That is why I said maybe.

    >
    > > However the end user has not breached the GPL so is
    > > licenced to use the embedded GPL code in the course of using the
    > > device.  Hence the end user faces no special risk if the software in
    > > the device is covered in part or whole by the GPL which the
    > > manufacturer has breached.

    >
    > True. However note that the end user is also within their GPL rights to ask
    > for the code. This has been done with the cases which have ended up in court
    > about the NAS devices.


    Which is of course another right the user of GPL code has. It has oft
    been said that the GPL gives users rights, not take them away as the
    typical MS EULA does.


    > > Now, opponents of open source would like to think that there is a
    > > special risk if the device uses GPL code, but this is just not the
    > > case.

    >
    > This risk is what exactly?


    What ever Impossible, Max and their cronies can dream up. They
    probably need some electric puha to help them dream. It is a 'smoke
    and mirrors' risk, a sort of virtual risk, a risk on another planet.
    But when a push comes to a shove, there is no actual special risk.
    peterwn, Mar 4, 2010
    #4
  5. In message
    <>, peterwn
    wrote:

    > On Mar 4, 6:14 pm, Gordon <> wrote:
    >
    >> The Courts agree that the code needs to be given to the third
    >> party if they request it.

    >
    > Only if GPL'd code is modified.


    If you’re redistributing GPL’d code, modified or not, you must offer the
    sources to your recipients.
    Lawrence D'Oliveiro, Mar 4, 2010
    #5
  6. peterwn

    peterwn Guest

    On Mar 5, 12:50 pm, Lawrence D'Oliveiro <l...@geek-
    central.gen.new_zealand> wrote:
    > In message
    > <>, peterwn
    > wrote:
    >
    > > On Mar 4, 6:14 pm, Gordon <> wrote:

    >
    > >> The Courts agree that the code needs to be given to the third
    > >> party if they request it.

    >
    > > Only if GPL'd code is modified.

    >
    > If you’re redistributing GPL’d code, modified or not, you must offer the
    > sources to your recipients.


    So the special risk Gordon asked about is being swamped with code when
    as an end user you probably do not care how the thing works <grin>
    peterwn, Mar 5, 2010
    #6
  7. peterwn

    peterwn Guest

    On Mar 5, 12:50 pm, Lawrence D'Oliveiro <l...@geek-
    central.gen.new_zealand> wrote:
    > In message
    > <>, peterwn
    > wrote:
    >
    > > On Mar 4, 6:14 pm, Gordon <> wrote:

    >
    > >> The Courts agree that the code needs to be given to the third
    > >> party if they request it.

    >
    > > Only if GPL'd code is modified.

    >
    > If you’re redistributing GPL’d code, modified or not, you must offer the
    > sources to your recipients.


    Oops, overlooked because of its relative triviality and is something
    that is easly remedied at little cost to the maker. Maker is unlikely
    to face court action or pay damages if the breach is remedied when
    pointed out. The important point is there is no need to disclose
    proprietary code which is reliant on the Linux system. What really
    upsets such makers is having to disclose mdifications to GPL code
    which they regard as proprietary. These are the stiuations requirinng
    FSF etc to get out the hobnail boots.

    The more fundamental problem is that some device makers regard the GPL
    as a joke. AT&T also regarded copyright of UNIX code developed by
    University of California, University of New South Wales etc as a joke
    when they stripped out copyright notices and incorporated such code in
    their proprietary UNIX. AT&T subsequently settled out of court with
    the Regents of the UofC.
    peterwn, Mar 5, 2010
    #7
  8. In message <c2958198-
    >, peterwn wrote:

    > Maker is unlikely to face court action or pay damages if the breach is
    > remedied when pointed out.


    It’s worth emphasizing that all the enforcement actions undertaken by gpl-
    violations.org, the FSF and others have been targeted at getting the vendors
    to comply with the GPL, not at getting large sums of money out of them or
    trying to kill their business. Like when the FSF sued Cisco
    <http://lwn.net/Articles/333907/>, some who had not been following the case
    immediately jumped to the conclusion that the FSF were being trigger-happy,
    not realizing that they had been trying to come to an amicable agreement
    over many years <http://lwn.net/Articles/310899/>.

    Maybe there’s a culture where the threat of lawsuits just doesn’t get taken
    seriously unless there’s millions of dollars involved.

    > The more fundamental problem is that some device makers regard the GPL
    > as a joke.


    BusyBox does seem to be the issue in more GPL-compliance lawsuits than all
    other Free Software put together <http://lwn.net/Articles/366467/>. This in
    spite of the fact that the GPL has been enforced in quite a few court cases
    now.
    Lawrence D'Oliveiro, Mar 5, 2010
    #8
  9. peterwn

    peterwn Guest

    On Mar 5, 3:11 pm, Lawrence D'Oliveiro <l...@geek-
    central.gen.new_zealand> wrote:

    >
    > > The more fundamental problem is that some device makers regard the GPL
    > > as a joke.

    >
    > BusyBox does seem to be the issue in more GPL-compliance lawsuits than all
    > other Free Software put together <http://lwn.net/Articles/366467/>. This in
    > spite of the fact that the GPL has been enforced in quite a few court cases
    > now.


    After the Linux kernel itself, Busybox is arguably the second most
    significant piece of software especially for embedded systems. It is a
    compact collection of 'lite' versions of the fundamental *NIX commands
    like mkdir, etc, etc. It is also commonly used in Linux installation
    routines because of its compactness.
    peterwn, Mar 5, 2010
    #9
  10. In message <2d0492b3-
    >, peterwn wrote:

    > [BusyBox] is also commonly used in Linux installation routines because of
    > its compactness.


    Which annoys the hell out of me. Typical installation media nowadays can
    easily be a gigabyte or more in size. Why can’t Debian, for example, include
    a proper shell, along with a bunch of proper file-manipulation utilities,
    including my favourite, rsync? Or at least offer the option of an installer
    with these.
    Lawrence D'Oliveiro, Mar 5, 2010
    #10
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