Potential nonfree code in Linux-libre

Alexandre Oliva lxoliva at fsfla.org
Fri Aug 20 05:15:18 UTC 2021

Hello, Legimet,

Thanks for the report.

On Aug 18, 2021, Legimet <legimet.calc at gmail.com> wrote:

> I noticed that there are some files which are included in Linux-libre,
> but stripped from Debian's kernel: 

That's not so surprising.  Debian has different standards.  They even
have a different Free Software definition, that they apply equally to
software, documentation, functional and non-functional data.

We follow the original Free Software definition, as it applies to
software and other works for practical use.  We don't mind
non-executable configuration data, which leads to different decisions.

> arch/powerpc/platforms/8xx/micropatch.c

I found this one suspicious, as I inherited the package from BLAG
maintainers that followed gNewSense's decision from back then.  I have
never challenged or reversed that decision, out of understanding that
gNewSense had looked into and debated where to draw the line.

> drivers/media/i2c/vs6624.c

This one looks more like configuration data than code to me.  It's hard
to tell why, and such hunches are by no means absolute, but there are
plenty of other arrays that comes across as data rather than as code,
and that we've retained.  deblob-check explicitly authorizes this one.

The filename is indeed different nowadays, but the filename annotations
are completely ignored by deblob-check.

> drivers/video/fbdev/nvidia
> drivers/video/fbdev/riva

> The nvidia and riva drivers contain obfuscated source code, according to
> the Debian dfsg patches:

Source code provided with insufficient documentation is less desirable
than properly documented source code, but that's not enough to make it
non-Free Software.

Whether it meets the requirements for corresponding sources under the
GPL would be more relevant if we'd received it as object code at first,
and had requested the corresponding sources.  Getting obfuscated code
could then be challenged as failing to meet the obligation to provide
the source code.

We got poor, debatable source code, but it's hardly debatable that, once
one of us compiles that and distributes the object code, that *is* the
corresponding source code we had at our disposal, that we've used to
compile into the object form.  We've never even had access to something
that would be superior as source code, and we don't even know whether it
exists.  So there's no issue of GPL compliance for *us*, or for our

Absent evidence that there is a better version that was precompiled into
what we're using as sources, we keep it.  I'm not even sure we'd have a
case for removal if there was such evidence.

I compare this situation with that of the decompiled version of the
Brazilian tax software that I've been using to maintain and update it
since 2007.  The binaries I got at first were LGPLed compiled Java code
with debug info, that decompiled into compilable Java without comments.
That's not the corresponding source code for the binaries I got, but
once I adopted that as the sources I was going to modify to develop it
further, and started mofiying it, it became source code, and, more than
that, it became corresponding source code for the binaries I've built
and distributed out of it.

In this case again Debian uses different criteria.  And that's fine.
They don't have to ship code (or data) they're not comfortable shipping,
and they're free to modify the software to suit their needs, and to
distribute the modified software if they wish.

>> These drivers are also largely redundant with nouveau.  The RIVA 128
>> (NV3) is not supported by nouveau but is about 15 years old and
>> probably discontinued 10 years ago.

This is not a relevant argument for us.

If it's Free Software, or if it's not software but data, we keep it.

If it's non-Free Software, or if it's software or documentation that
induces to the use of non-Free Software, we drop it.

Thanks again,

Alexandre Oliva, happy hacker                https://FSFLA.org/blogs/lxo/
   Free Software Activist                       GNU Toolchain Engineer
Disinformation flourishes because many people care deeply about injustice
but very few check the facts.  Ask me about <https://stallmansupport.org>

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