For Approval: GPLv3

Smith, McCoy mccoy.smith at
Fri Aug 17 03:27:08 UTC 2007

On item a) below, of interest is 47 CFR 15.15(a) & (b) (the Federal
Regulations promulgated by the FCC), which can be read here:

-----Original Message-----
From: Donovan Hawkins [mailto:hawkins at] 
Sent: Thursday, August 16, 2007 6:01 PM
To: license-discuss at
Subject: Re: For Approval: GPLv3

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
> is that if you cannot abide by both the laws and the terms of the
> you cannot use the code.  This therefore discriminates against *any
field of 
> endeavor* where the government has a compelling interest in regulating
> software/hardware package as a whole including areas which:
> 1)  interface with public airwaves
> 2)  must maintain integrity relating to public service functions (such
> 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
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.
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
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
risk any consequences.

Whatever the case, there seem to be several ways you can have
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
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
access it, they have to tell them what the factory default password is
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
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
no rights under the GPL. At best the voter might managed to get himself
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
freedom to mess around with my copy running on my machine.

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

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

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