article on GPLv3, Linux kernel, and Devices Rigged to Malfunction

Ben Finney ben at
Tue Oct 24 22:43:40 UTC 2006

On 24-Oct-2006, Alex Hudson wrote:
> On Tue, 2006-10-24 at 13:36 +0100, Ciaran O'Riordan wrote:
> > "Shall we tivoise?  Oh, looks like we can't."
> It's a nice idea, but I don't buy it :)  "Shall we distribute
> source? Oh, looks like we can't", if you see what I mean.

Parties that choose not to redistribute under the terms of the GPL are
free to make that choice; but nothing else in the license will allow
them to redistribute.

In other words, you seem to be concerned about parties that were never
even considering redistribution under GPL, so I don't see how the
GPLv3 changes things.

> I'm sure there would be some proportion of people who choose against
> DRM based on the fact that the new GPL contains provisions against
> it. I just don't think they will be a large proportion.

If it's greater than zero, that's a good thing.

If free software authors can choose to license their work such that it
cannot be co-opted into a device to restrict the very freedoms granted
in the license, that's a good thing.

> People here seem to be really having trouble understanding what I'm
> trying to get across, so I'm clearly not doing a very good job.

Perhaps. Or perhaps what you see as a problem isn't one that the GPLv3
is designed to solve.

> I don't believe that someone intending to respect the GPLv3 would
> intentionally develop a secret key system that they knew they would
> have to reveal: sure, they could issue individual keys on each piece
> of hardware, and stuff like that, but at the end of the day it gains
> them naught.

Right. I'd go further and say that someone who chooses to release
their work under the GPL (any version) is not likely to want to
restrict their users's freedoms.

The clauses we're discussing are intended to protect recipients from
those who *would* restrict their freedoms.

> So, I don't believe that the authorisation clause has anything to do
> with the free software environment per se

It has litle to do with free software *developers*, at least the ones
who believe in ensuring the freedoms of the recipients are preserved.

It has everything to do with the trust that people can maintain in the
freedoms of works released under those terms. Trust is a big part of
the free software community.

> I do believe that it is highly relevant to someone who has been
> distributing a piece of GPLv3 software in violation of the license.
> If it has an authorisation system, it seems pretty clear to me that
> they didn't intend to make it public (which means "to divulge to a
> customer" or whoever, it doesn't matter). 

It's even more highly relevant to someone choosing existing software
to build into their device. The license terms clearly state the
requirements for redistribution. If that means the party chooses not
to build on that software, so be it; that's as far as the license can
go regarding their actions.

It is also relevant to those who have already been building on GPLv3
works, and later consider whether to introduce DRM restrictions. The
cost of removing all the GPLv3 code already present must be factored
into the cost of the change; for some it will presumably be enough to
tip the balance.

Then, of course, there are those who decide to violate the license,
which you've been discussing. I hope you can see now that there are
other relevant cases.

> What I'm saying is that previously, GPL enforcement has relied
> primarily on private agreements to correct violations in the past,
> and violators have been brought into compliance. My worry with the
> authorisation clause is that it could make it a lot more difficult
> to reach such a private agreement, since people are less likely to
> want to reveal secret keys than they are source code which they
> probably didn't write much of. It would jeopardise whatever
> "security" or DRM system they have put in place, which is a strong
> disincentive. 

I think I see what you're saying; the introduction of DRM by a party
increases the magnitude of error.

I think that's unavoidable. DRM is completely antithetical to what the
GPL is designed for; it's completely within the scope of the GPL to
attempt to preserve the freedoms of everyone who receives the licensed

Stopping DRM from becoming widespread is vital. This is just one of
many measures against it: allowing a set of free software to continue
to grow where no DRM can legally be imposed.

> If private agreements are more difficult to reach, that could mean
> more lawsuits and less enforcement. That is what worries me.

It worries me far more that all the work under the strongest copyleft
license could be locked up in DRM devices. I see the GPLv3 as one
likely way to combat that possibility.

 \     "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers."  -- |
  `\                              Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943 |
_o__)                                                                  |
Ben Finney <ben at>
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