Mixing GPL and BSD code just takes care

If you can keep someone on your team who is obsessive compulsive to ride herd on those with attention deficits, you're far less likely to find your whole team in court later on.

Theo de Raadt, from Wikipedia
The Software Freedom Law Center has released a set of guidelines for projects that need to mix BSD and GPL code.

This follows a highly-publicized dispute over Atheros driver code for the Linux kernel, during which OpenBSD head Theo de Raadt and other OpenBSD leaders got, shall we say, testy. And you don't want to get a Canadian testy. Especially one who has lived in the Yukon. (That's de Raadt, right, from Wikipedia.) I know I don't.

The issue in the Atheros case were changes to an OpenBSD driver aimed at enabling 802.11 under a GPL license, which de Raadt called a "stealing our code thing." The SFLC decided that the new files were separately copyrighted works, but SFLC head Eben Moglen convinced most to release the code so it could be re-incorporated in OpenBSD.

Most, but not all. At this writing de Raadt has not publicly responded to the SFLC paper, which seemed to blame developer Nick Kossifidis' poor revision history for the Ath5k-branch at MadWifi-SVN being available only under the GPL.

Moglen did, however, win a key concession. "The Linux Wireless Team, along with some Madwifi developers, have indicated a desire to collaborate with the OpenBSD team working on ar5k," he wrote. Some Madwifi developers apparently remain mad.

The developer guidelines should be more important in the long run. In them, the SFLC urges developers to preserve all copyright notices in their code so the code's prevenance can be traced. It then set out a five-step process for making sure you stay out of trouble:

  1. Identify all contributors.
  2. Identify which contributions create a copyright interest.
  3. Secure permissions from current copyright holders.
  4. Create a system for tracking permissions on future contributions.
  5. Publicize the new licensing policy.

It all sounds pretty good, but let me add one very important addition. If you can keep someone on your team who is obsessive compulsive to ride herd on those with attention deficits, you're far less likely to find your whole team in court later on. Or on Theo de Raadt's bad side.  

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