For Approval: GPLv3

Donovan Hawkins hawkins at
Fri Aug 17 01:00:58 UTC 2007

On Thu, 16 Aug 2007, Chris Travers wrote:

> The "fields of endeavor" that I was talking about were firmware for 
> FCC-regulated equipment, voting machines, and the like.  The basic argument 
> is that if you cannot abide by both the laws and the terms of the license, 
> you cannot use the code.  This therefore discriminates against *any field of 
> endeavor* where the government has a compelling interest in regulating the 
> software/hardware package as a whole including areas which:
> 1)  interface with public airwaves
> 2)  must maintain integrity relating to public service functions (such as 
> voting machines) etc.

Coming from a purely technical perspective, I'm not certain you are 
correct that those two fields are prevented from using GPL code.

1) I have at least two devices with open source firmware that are capable 
of broadcasting over the airwaves: a Linksys WRT54GL (wifi) and a Neuros 
MP3 player (FM transmitter). Both of them have 3rd-party replacement 
firmware, derived from the open firmware released by the manufacturers, 
which enable the user to increase the broadcast strength significantly. As 
I see it, there are a few possible explanations for why this would be:

a) The manufacturer is not legally responsible for what the users do when 
they modify their device, as long as the version as sold was FCC 
compliant. This may require a legal notice informing the user that 
certain modifications may be illegal in their country.

b) The hardware has been physically designed not to exceed FCC 
regulations regardless of firmware.

c) Closed-source drivers prevent the open-source portion from exceeding 
FCC regulations.

d) The manufacturers have technically violated the law and are willing to 
risk any consequences.

Whatever the case, there seem to be several ways you can have open-source 
firmware on an FCC-regulated device.

2) There's nothing inherently insecure about open-sourcing the software 
for a voting machine...IIRC there is at least one county/state that plans 
to require open-source software for all electronic voting machines 
(creating quite a problem for the companies that designed their voting 
solutions to run on MS Windows).

GPL v3 requires that the manufacturer of the voting machine inform the 
buyer (ie the government who is holding the election) how to unlock the 
voting machine and replace the software. If there is a password needed to 
access it, they have to tell them what the factory default password is set 
to. But there is nothing that prevents the government from changing that 
password and keeping the new password a secret from the voters who use the 
machine. I don't think that allowing you to vote using the government's 
machine qualifies as conveying the software to the voter, so the voter has 
no rights under the GPL. At best the voter might managed to get himself a 
copy of the software and be entitled to learn the factory default 

I don't even think that Affero-style licences would be affected by this, 
as long as they are well constructed. I don't think the intent of Affero 
is to require site admins to give out their admin passwords.

IOW, freedom to obtain and modify your own copy of software doesn't imply 
freedom to mess around with my copy running on my machine.

(note, of course, that "password" can be replaced with "any method used to 
prevent access to the software")

Donovan Hawkins, PhD                 "The study of physics will always be
Software Engineer                     safer than biology, for while the
hawkins at                   hazards of physics drop off as 1/r^2,                biological ones grow exponentially."

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