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Re: Can linux kernel claim it uses GPL v2?

From: Alexander Terekhov
Subject: Re: Can linux kernel claim it uses GPL v2?
Date: Sat, 07 Oct 2006 16:41:35 +0200

David Kastrup wrote:
> writes:
> > Can linux kernel claim they distribute the kernel under conditions of
> > GPL v2, while they use modified version of GPL v2
> They did not modify GPLv2.
> > (thanks to this modification glibc doesnt have to be GPL, but can be
> > LGPL)?
> Where do you get those ideas?

Hey dak, glibc and FAQing "semantics of the communication (what kinds of 
information are interchanged) ... if the semantics of the communication 
are intimate enough" aside for a moment, according to GNU Reichsminister 
für Volksaufklärung und Propaganda, the linux kernel is under sorta 
impure GPL, my dear GNUtian dak.

LWN: A while back, you said something about getting an answer from
Linus on the Linux kernel license. Since there is a COPYING file
that makes it clear that the kernel is governed under the GPL,
where's the uncertainty?

Eben: If the kernel is pure GPL, then I think we would all agree
that non-GPL, non-free loadable kernel modules represent GPL
violations. Nonetheless, we all know that there are a large number
of such modules and their existence is tolerated or even to some
degree encouraged by the kernel maintainers, and I take that to
mean that as an indication that there is some exception for those

The kernel also maintains a technical mechanism, namely the
GPL-only symbols and tainting structure, which seems to suggest an
API for the connection of non-GPL'ed code to the kernel, which also
seems to me a strong indication of the presence of an exception.
The difficulty as a lawyer, even a lawyer that is reasonably
knowledgeable about these matters, is that I don't understand what
the terms of that exception are.

So, say I want to audit a system, say an embedded product, in which
I find non-GPL loadable kernel modules present, how do I know
whether that fits within an exception which is legitimately
available to third parties and when it is not?


So then there are parties in the world who think they are in legal
trouble on one side with the regulators if they do release source
code for loadable kernel modules that drive their software-
controlled radios, and they don't know if they're in legal trouble
on the other side if they don't release source code. For those
parties, in particular, it would be very helpful if the kernel
developers had decided to formalize the nature of their exceptions,
and the Free Software Foundation and I have made a few attempts to
discuss that matter with kernel developers. I had conversations
with Ted Ts'o, I talked to Linus about it and I understood there
were some reluctances to clarify, in a full and complete way, what
was going on. There may have even been disagreements among kernel
developers about that, I wouldn't know. But I continue to think
that it would be useful, for a whole variety of people who are
trying in good faith to do the very best they can, and who may be
navigating some dodgy legal territory, for them to be able to
refer to something beyond the COPYING file which -- with all due
respect -- I think probably doesn't contain all the terms that are
relevant to the use of the kernel.


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